When spec’ing trucks, past history is important, but one consequence to reusing prior model-year specs is repeating past inefficiencies. Fleets operations change and managers need to adopt a “clean sheet” approach every time they spec replacement vehicles.

I remember asking one fleet manager how he spec’ed replacement trucks for his fleet application. He related to me that many years earlier a Freightliner rep spec’ed out his trucks and he has been using the same formula ever since. While this may work in some cases, vehicle specifications should be defined by today’s fleet application. This will ensure that the replacement truck is designed to accommodate current operational requirements rather than trying to make your operation conform to trucks spec’ed for yesteryear’s requirements.

When spec’ing a medium-duty truck there are a number of critical factors must be correctly spec’ed; otherwise, you’ll end up making an expensive mistake. Trucks must be equipped to handle very specific fleet applications, which requires correctly specifying a multitude of components, such as the right drivetrain, suspension, and body.

Talk with the Employees Using the Assets

Fleet managers need to view work trucks as earning assets. To maximize the productivity of this working asset, it is necessary to optimize specifications, operating procedures, and replacement strategies. The best way to optimize truck productivity is to talk with the people in the field to understand what type of service the truck is expected to perform and how it will be used.

Solicit input from field personnel to ensure that local issues affecting the vehicle’s operation are taken into account. By understanding day-to-day fleet applications, you will be able to build a truck that meets the users’ daily needs. Without fully understanding the fleet application requirements and operating parameters, it is impossible to spec the best chassis, powertrain, and body necessary to optimize productivity.

Although fleet managers may understand how trucks are intended to be used in the field; intended usage often does not match real-world usage. If possible, schedule site visits to see firsthand how a truck is being used in the work environment. This will also give you the opportunity to confirm firsthand what is really needed as opposed to what a user may want.

The ultimate objective of your discussions with asset users is to match the truck with the fleet application. When meeting with end-users, ask questions about their current vehicles. For example, is the powertrain right for their application? Is the gross vehicle weight adequate for the payload carried? If the vehicle will be towing a trailer, is the gross combination weight rating high enough?

Discovering Unknown Problems

When talking with employees who are actually using the trucks, you undoubtedly will discover they have problems unknown to you. For example, you may discover problems with loading height, cab access, lack of bins, limited visibility when backing, or insufficient tool storage. This is your opportunity to ask a lot of questions to determine vehicle or upfit deficiencies. For instance, ask employees how the payload is distributed, whether the vehicle will be fully loaded or operating with a diminishing load, how they load and off-load cargo, or whether there are passenger/crew requirements.

Similarly, investigate the maintenance records to determine if the current vehicle is under-spec’ed. Usually, the majority of trucks that have unscheduled maintenance problems or experience repeated mechanical failures are under-powered and overloaded.

In the final analysis, the most insightful way to correctly spec a replacement truck is to meet and talk with the employees who will be using the truck. By understanding actual usage, you can determine all truck specifications. It can’t be stressed enough that vehicle specifications must be defined by the fleet application and the best way to understand this is by talking with the actual users of the asset.

Let me know what you think.


Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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