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Feature   September 1, 2003   by Auto Service World

Truck Safety Products and Beyond

Seeing and being seen are important elements for the trucker, and should be considered as a vital part of the sales conversation by jobbers and their staff. It isn't just about the parts. Transport agencies have been conducting safety blitzes on heavy duty trucks, but it remains a problematic area for many. Truck fatality rates continue to rise, though slowly, and truckers are under increasing pressure to comply with regulations and work harder for less. Take a recent safety blitz in Pickering, Ont., a bedroom community just east of Toronto. In a small-scale safety inspection, some 37 trucks were pulled over. More than half were pulled from service due to safety violations.


Of the 37 vehicles inspected, 21 were removed from service for various safety violations, a non-compliance rate of 57%. Violations ranged from major safety deficiencies to minor. Some trucks had no brakes or other major mechanical problems.

Still, the problems were largely easy to repair, and 18 were returned to compliance on site, which points to neglecting maintenance, rather than flagrant disregard for safety.

It is not just a local problem though. In August, the results of the North America-wide 16th Annual Roadcheck conducted in June by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) were released, showing a dramatic increase in the number of inspections. The 72-hour inspection blitz resulted in 55,784 North American Standard Inspections performed on commercial vehicles by 9,471 state and provincial personnel, at 1,097 locations throughout Canada and the United States.

Some 22.7% of vehicles inspected were placed out of service for mechanical problems, up from 22.0% in 2002. For drivers, the 2003 inspections resulted in a 5.0% driver out-of-service rate, down from 5.7% last year. For hazardous materials inspections this year, the out-of-service rates for vehicles increased over 2002 numbers (17.0 to 20.2%) and stayed the same for drivers (2.4%), while for motorcoach inspections, the out-of-service rates for vehicles and drivers both decreased from 2002 to 2003 (11.7 to 9.5 and 8.7 to 1.7%, respectively).

Stephen F. Campbell, CVSA executive director, calls the program an important time for the organization to show what it can accomplish. “We want to showcase the outstanding efforts of all North American Inspectors – who are out there every day – and highlight the progress of their impacts on highway safety.”

“North American commercial vehicle inspectors did an outstanding job during this year’s Roadcheck,” said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Annette M. Sandberg. “Commercial motor vehicle and driver inspections are necessary to achieve FMCSA’s goal of reducing the commercial vehicle fatality rate by 41% by 2008.”

Still, safety issues remain, and while there is only so much a jobber can do to influence the heavy-duty fleet owner and the individual trucker, keeping abreast of safety developments and having critical products readily available is one avenue.

Certainly the most readily accepted product line at the traditional jobber level is lighting.

“We are continuing to find more applications for LED lamps. The historical incandescent applications are being replaced with LED lamps,” says Bob Ives, vice-president of marketing, Truck-Lite. He explains that the market has grown from just red stop-turn-tail lamps to encompass a variety of applications, such as dome, back-up and interior applications.

One of the key advantages of LED lamps from a truck manufacturer’s standpoint is current draw, but the truckers have been enjoying lower maintenance costs. This means longer replacement intervals, which in turn makes it important for jobbers to stock and display the appropriate products.

“There are regulations and requirements as to how much light is output, and if they are missing a light they can be fined,” says Alicia Carbon, senior marketing assistant for Truck-Lite. To make it easier for truckers to know what is available, most lighting suppliers have embarked on a more retail-style approach to merchandising.

Once the sole preserve of the “light board,” clamshell, card stock, and rotating merchandisers are now available to serve the market.

Many of Peterson Manufacturing’s products are, for example, available in manufacturer’s packages, poly packs and a “Viz Pack.” This effectively gives the wholesaler a scaleable variety of purchase options.

Grote has also paid attention to the packaging issue. By creating packages to fit each product, Grote has eliminated wasted space, resulting in less movement within the packages and an overall neater display. The smaller packages also mean that jobbers with retail space can display more product in a given area.

The company says that as much as 25% more product can be accommodated in a four-foot display area than with conventional packaging.

Additionally, jobbers can provide an important service in keeping customers in compliance by helping them understand why lights can sometimes suffer a shortened lifespan.

According to Peterson, some 80% of vehicle lighting problems are traceable to poor “ground” connections. Actually a better term is ground-return circuit, which is the path through which electricity flows back to the battery in a D.C. circuit. Operating your incandescent lights at just 5% over design voltage will reduce the life of the bulb by 44%. Operating them at 10% over design voltage will reduce the life of the bulb by 68%.

It may not always seem like you are addressing a safety issue when the trucker comes looking for a lamp to replace the one he just knocked off on his way out of a loading dock, but you are. In addition, the whole issue of truckers being able to see well is one of ongoing concern.

A study of the cause of heavy truck crashes released in June by the U.S. National Highway Safety Traffic Administration reported that poor lighting conditions increased the likelihood of truck crashes.

Poor lighting conditions are associated with a 12% increase in the predicted odds of a rollover for combination trucks, whereas the odds of a rollover decline by 40% for single unit trucks. In a single-vehicle fatal crash, the odds of a jackknife are 3.22 times higher during adverse weather conditions. The odds of a jackknife on a curved roadway are 86% higher than the odds of a jackknife on a straight roadway. Poor lighting conditions increase the odds of a jackknife by 43%.

Obviously, all of these issues are affected by the ability of the driver to see. It should also be noted that NHTSA is also studying ways to reduce driver fatigue and improve the braking performance of heavy trucks. In both instances, lighting may also offer some significant help.

“Picture yourself as an owner-operator and you have to drive for hours on end,” says Siggie Tigges, Canadian sales manager, Hella Inc. “You have two kids and a mortgage. Do you rely on something that costs five dollars or do you rely on something that makes your life easier and helps you manoeuvre the vehicle better and safer?”

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HEAVY-DUTY DISTRIBUTOR TAKES ADVANTAGE OF COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY

There is, of course, more to being able to serve your customers than just the willingness to do so: you also need to keep the products on the shelf.

One of the largest heavy-duty distributors in the eastern U.S. has found that moulding computer use to a company’s needs can help streamline systems and keep inventory and profits on track.

The software the company uses, Pacesetter from Icas Computer Systems, Inc., Dover, New Jersey, automatically generates purchase orders to each vendor based on current inventory levels. It tracks intra-company transfers required to maintain proper inventory levels in each store–there are seven branches–and if parts are purchased at a discount, the software automatically adjusts the basis cost of both the new and existing inventory to an average value. It tracks orders by counterperson and makes it possible to put parts on hold and complete the order later. Counterpersons can easily check the sales history when a customer returns a part. Customers can even dial into the system on a modem and place orders online, an option that generated about $125,000 in sales last year.

“Even though the era of low-cost computers was just beginning when I founded this company [in 1983],” says company president and founder Joe Pardo, “I realized that having a computer would be critical to our success. I originally purchased a personal computer and began learning how to use it to operate my business. I immediately saw that the general-purpose software that I started with didn’t fit my business very well. In addition, I continually ran into problems with operating and maintaining the hardware.”

Settling on an ind
ustry-specific system was the answer.

In addition to tracking inventory, the system also allows sales to be tracked, and allows for multiple counterpeople to work on the same order. For example, if one counterperson starts to produce an order and puts two part numbers on it, but the customer has to check on the rest of his parts requirements, the order may end up being completed by a different counterperson. The system tracks the counterperson for each line item. This can satisfy the requirements of sales compensation while also keeping customer service timely and efficient, which could suffer if the customer has to wait for the original counterperson to become available.

Keeping track of it all is an important advantage of computerization, too.

“Flexible report writing tools make it possible to extract virtually any type of information. At the same time, built-in extensive permission control lets me limit the information that each person in the company is able to see,” says Pardo. Daily reports include the gross profit for each store as well as for the entire firm. He focuses on many month-end reports, but one particularly useful report gives a sales analysis for each customer that alerts sales staff that, for example, a customer who usually purchases 20 filters per month placed no orders last month.

“The information has helped me significantly improve the profit margins of this business,” Pardo says. “It gives me everything I need to intelligently determine which items to stock, where to stock them, which stores are doing better or worse than others and whether any of my costs are out of line.”


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