Rumors of Dot.com Death

TO HEAR many Wall Street watchers tell it, the New Economy is dead, and brick and mortar companies are once again where the action is.

Many people moved to Silicon Valley hotspots with visions of becoming instant millionaires. Some are now being portrayed in the nightly news packing up their dot.com dreams and moving back East to a mundane job in the Old Economy, promises of stock options dragging behind the U-Haul.

These are tough times in cyberspace. Underscoring the dot.com dilemma: the market for personal computers shrank 3.5% during the first quarter of 2001 — the first decline since the Gartner Dataquest research firm began keeping records more than seven years ago.

But if the Internet is dead, our industry hasn't caught on yet. Instead, applications continue to grow.

This year's NTEA convention was a good example. No less than three convention sessions were devoted to new trends in technology. Perhaps the one with the most interesting repercussions for truck equipment distributors focused on using the Internet as a way for state departments of transportation to get bids for truck chassis, bodies, and equipment.

Landing those big orders of dump trucks has always been a competitive business, but the folks at PennDOT at least have found that online bidding for trucks and equipment has resulted in significant savings. For example, PennDOT saved $1,000 per dump truck (a total cost savings of $200,000 for the fleet of trucks it will purchase this year); $57,000 per chassis for line stripers (the agency bought three, for a total savings of $171,000 for the order); and $500 per loader. On a tri-axle unit, PennDOT estimated that bids would be $111,800, but the low bid actually came in at $93,000.

The department saved $3 million on salt in 1999 through the online bidding process.

Just how much impact this type of bidding process will have remains to be seen. As the article in this issue points out, it is expensive and time-consuming to go to bid this way. The company PennDOT uses requires a minimum purchase of $1 million and charges a $35,000 fee. At least in its present form, such technology will be cost effective only to the largest customers. PennDOT has a $30-million capital equipment budget. It has 23,500 pieces of equipment — third nationally. Of the equipment the department operates, 2,200 are dump trucks.

The presentation, however, put forward-thinking distributors on notice. There is little doubt that the price of this technology will come down as time goes on, and refinements in the software will make online bidding of truck equipment more feasible. When that happens, distributors will have to ask themselves some tough questions. Do we continue to go after this type of business? If so, how do we play this new electronic game? Where can we gain greater efficiencies or reduce our costs? How do we protect margins when online bidding appears to be generating lower bids? If we choose not to compete for this type of business, where can we go to replace these sales?

While the Internet just now is being used for truck equipment e-commerce, it increasingly is becoming a communications tool for our industry. The Net certainly is affecting Trailer/Body Builders and our ability to serve you.

One of the major frustrations of any newshound who works for a monthly magazine is the time it takes to get information into the hands of the reader. That frustration, however, is just about over. Two months ago, the computer wizards at our parent company introduced a new turbocharged Web site for us. With it we can get the written word to you within seconds after the story is complete.

But that's just the beginning. Are you looking for a story that we ran recently (or not so recently)? You can now search for a word or phrase and track down anything we have written about it during the past four years. Do you ever need to search for a product or supplier? The beginnings of an electronic version of our annual Buyer's Guide are now available. And more capabilities are coming.

Those of us with printer's ink under our fingernails were surprised by this fact: in only two months of operation, this new Trailer/Body Builders Web site drew more visitors (almost 20,000) than we have subscribers of our magazine.

The visions of Internet technogeeks may have been pummeled in recent months (we have not heard the phrase “way cool” in awhile), but pragmatists such as those in the truck industry increasingly are using the Internet as a functional tool. As Mark Twain might have said under the conditions we are in today, the reports of dot.com death have been greatly exaggerated.

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