Don’t get left behind: Yesterday’s tech won’t run tomorrow’s trucks

By Jack Roberts on

yesterday's truckOne of today’s more rarified truck-driving jobs is held by lucky souls who manage to score a gig with a manufacturer. While there’s some over-the-road stuff with these jobs, it’s usually running validation tests in Canada during the winter or down in Arizona in August, and they have to adhere to strict driving guidelines while doing it. And somebody’s got to get the trucks from the engineering center to whatever truck show or dealer meeting is on the calendar.

But for the most part, these guys spend their days behind the wheel driving a set route or on a track following strict parameters set by the engineering staff as they attempt to work out one problem or another on the vehicle. All in all, it means an awful lot more time at home with the family than fleet drivers typically see, and you get to see the newest trucks and hardware long before anyone else. Small wonder, if you talk to them, that you find many of them think they’ve found their dream job in the trucking industry.

One part of their job is to ride shotgun at media and dealer events when a journalist or fleet executive climbs into the cab and behind the wheel. They know the vehicles inside and out, can answer any question you have and can gently coach a novice driver – or a journalist who doesn’t get as much time behind the wheel as they’d like – in the finer points of commercial vehicle safety.

I’ve driven a lot of trucks with these guys, and I’ve conducted sort of an unofficial survey over the years. I always ask them: Among the different groups of people they take on test drives, who tends to scare them the most? Is it the dealers or the salesmen? How about journalists or fleet customers? What about the company engineers or executives?

The answer, more often than not, is fleet owners. As one track driver told me recently, “Most of them used to drive, but they don’t anymore, so they’re rusty. But they’re the boss. So they feel like they’ve got something to prove sometimes. And some of them can really scare the hell out of you.”

On one level, this is just a funny little anecdote about the bossman’s ego and his abilities behind the wheel. But maybe there’s more to it. The boss ultimately OKs new technology options for the fleet’s vehicles. And if someone is shown that something can increase fuel efficiency, decrease maintenance costs and improve highway safety – say, an automated transmission – how big a role does that decision-maker’s own abilities behind the wheel play into the acceptance or rejection of that technology?

In other words, his mindset could be “Yes. The best drivers are getting old and retiring. And the new ones we’re hiring will be safer and make us more money with these transmissions.” Or it might be “The old technology was good enough for me. And it ought to be good enough for anybody driving for me.”

People don’t like change. And in the trucking industry, “change” usually means “more expensive.” But that doesn’t mean you should discount any new technology or safety system just because you got by without it back in the day.

Everywhere we look today, the signs point to a relentless push toward more technology in commercial vehicles and a greater government-driven emphasis on safer operations. It’s still possible for fleets to resist those trends. On the other hand, it’s only a matter of time before other companies that adopt these new technologies pass them by.

The old days were great, but they’re gone – and they’re not coming back. That’s something to think about next time one of those manufacturer drivers is sitting over in the passenger seat explaining a new piece of technology to you.

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts is executive editor for CCJ and equipment editor for its sister magazine Overdrive. Roberts joined Randall-Reilly in 1995 as associate editor of Equipment World magazine and began covering both heavy-duty and light trucks in 1996. In 2006 he was the founding editor of Total Landscape Care before joining CCJ's staff in 2008.

2 comments
Edsaid
Edsaid

Very good arcticle. Technology certainly has changed many things like it or not. I for one have enjoyed the change but many have been jumping ship and worse yet there are those like the old fleet owners, which isn't always the case or rather isn't always a fleet owner but a director or manager, that get in the way of progress. This of course makes everyone's job harder. Harder mostly because no training is provided to keep pace with these changes. Not for the drivers, or technicians. Those that are able, do it on their own and those that cann't, are forced to move on. It's a real shame but maybe someone else will pick up the slack and give these people a job with training.

kellyfrey
kellyfrey

Thanks for the article.  Many fleet managers believe that their drivers will resist most, if not all, new technology innovations.  At @bigroadinc we have seen drivers actually be the catalyst behind new technology adoption - especially with electronic logs on their smart phones and tablets.  Over 55,000 drivers have downloaded the BigRoad electronic log app in just 8 months and hundreds have these have taken the idea back to their fleet manager/owner and the fleet follows.  In fact it has become the highest rated trucking app on the Google Play Store for truck drivers.  And this is mostly from the drivers.  Definitely changing the way technology can be adopted in fleets.  Kind of a Bring Your Own Applications (BYOA) approach to trucking - not just Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

 

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