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A secret sauce that builds better trucks

A secret sauce that builds better trucks

Trailer/Body Builders March 2016 editorial

A friend of ours has spent years attending meetings between chassis manufacturers and truck equipment distributors. As he observes, “It’s kind of boring watching these two groups meet with one another now. It was a lot more fun when they used to shout at each other, ‘You dirty guys.’” Or words to that effect.

Like old married people, chassis manufacturers and truck equipment distributors seem to have settled down, determined to make the marriage work. They have to because they need one another. What chassis manufacturer wants to bog down the production line to offer some arcane, one-off truck that, when combined with all the other arcane, one-off trucks, form the backbone of the truck equipment industry? And who in the truck equipment business has the resources to produce the sophisticated components that form today’s chassis?

Still, it’s not like the two parties are now in total harmony. A case in point: the right to repair issue that Marc Karon, president of Total Truck Parts, brought forward at the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week.

To a great extent, chassis manufacturers have wired themselves into a corner. Electronics seem to be the answer for almost every question that comes along: performance, reliability, product quality, regulatory compliance, labor savings, cost reductions. The OEMs have invested greatly to address each of these concerns, not only in the hardware but also in the software that tells each of the major components what to do and when to do it.

This proprietary intellectual property is just that—their property. Chassis manufacturers aren’t interested in sharing this valuable asset any more than they would be happy to have a distributor drive up to their truck plant and use their automated paint line to spray a dump body or two.

But this “secret sauce” that OEMs have developed to control vital systems has been spread all over today’s trucks. And if a service shop is going to repair a modern truck, or if a truck equipment distributor is going to upfit one, to one extent or another they will need to interface with the electronics of the truck.

Service shops in particular need to access that computer code to diagnose and repair today’s trucks. Understandably, OEMs want to keep their sauce secret. But to do what it traditionally does, the aftermarket needs the OEMs to take the lid off the jar.

Here are some of the places where the struggle is going on:

• Location of critical sensors on the vehicle.

• Wiring diagrams.

• Ability to reflash on-board computers.

• As-built VIN to OE part number information.

• Specialized tools.

• Licensing at fair and reasonable prices.

The “interface” between upfitter and OEM will become increasingly important as more and more electronic components are built into tomorrow’s trucks. Some of these changes may present challenges, but they also may offer aftermarket opportunities. Derek Kaufman identified several in the story on Page 52. Among them:

• Telematics.

• Safety technology, he believes, is a “great aftermarket opportunity” including lane departure warning (LDW) systems and lane keep assist systems which will actively control braking and/or steering to keep the truck in the lane, and collision avoidance technology features Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation (FCAM); Forward Looking Radar/Video to sense closing distance and trigger an alarm.

• Video cameras. Expect them to replace mirrors in many cases.

As one truck manufacturer representative told us recently, we can expect more changes in the next five years than we have experienced in the past 50. The challenge for truck equipment distributors will be to identify those changes and turn them into sales opportunities—even if it means dipping into the secret sauce.

Fortunately, as in the right to repair issue and other concerns, there are adults in the room who are willing to sit down and work out a solution that meets the needs of both parties and the customers that they jointly serve. Oh that our politicians could do the same. ♦

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