Electric windows and air conditioning used to be options on work trucks, but Lo Priore says the days of finding the kind of drivers willing to grind out a day in a hot and noisy cab are a thing of the past.
“We have heard from our customers that drivers are increasingly important in the decision about brand and specs of the truck, and that trend seems to be increasing,” says Ann Demitruk, vice president of marketing for Western Star.
“You’ve only got one shot at ordering the truck and keeping the guy happy and keeping the driver,” Lo Priore adds. “If you can keep the guy happy, you don’t get grievances and it changes the whole morale of the drivers, the mechanics and everybody else. I feel the extra little money you spend [for options] is money well-spent.”
Carro says, with his drivers spending all day in a cab hauling asphalt in the Florida heat, their comfort is a priority and Dorwart says keeping drivers comfortable behind the wheel is now a significant factor in spec’ing given the shortage of qualified drivers and the general aging of the labor pool.
“Spec’ing more comfortable seats, interiors and some nice accessories, along with an AMT, can really make things more pleasing and easier for the driver,” he says.
“A comfortable operator is a more productive operator,” Kenworth Marketing Manager Kurt Swihart says.
“Technology has made drivers more productive and efficient, and depending on the application and situation, some of the features can result in a better experience for the driver,” Aufdemberg adds. “Vocational fleets are doing a lot to make the profession and driving a truck more appealing, and are looking for specs that will make drivers enthusiastic about their jobs and productive. Fleets are considering the evolving needs of their drivers, and now creating a comfortable work environment can impact driver recruitment and retention.”
Many of the changes flowing through the work truck market are being influenced by light pickups, Hillman says.
“It wasn’t that long ago that your pickup was just sort of a basic work tool,” he says. “As those have become more and more laden with creature comforts, the expectation of drivers in a Class 8 vehicle lags a bit, but it kind of follows that. It wasn’t uncommon not that long ago for a work truck to not have air conditions, but these days it’s an expectation.”
To Hillman’s point, Levine says Ford designed its F-650/F-750 interior based on popular F-Series pickups and chassis cabs, adding the 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 engine is 25 percent quieter inside the cabin at 60 mph than the previous model, with noise levels dropping to 68 decibels from 74 decibels.
“At idle, noise levels are improved as much as 45 percent, dropping to 48 decibels from 63 decibels,” Levine says. “Comfort and technology – including fleet telematics – are more important than ever.”