The Auto Truck Group Combines Three Companies, Focuses on National Market

Aug. 1, 1998
KNOWING what a customer needs and building the right truck to help him get the job done is the driving force at the Auto Truck Group."It's not about merely

KNOWING what a customer needs and building the right truck to help him get the job done is the driving force at the Auto Truck Group.

"It's not about merely installing truck equipment," says Jim Dondlinger, President of the Auto Truck Group. "It's about turning trucks into tools.

"Over time we've gotten to know our customers pretty well - the quality concerns of the people who make the purchasing decisions and the individuals who use our trucks in their daily work. These are the people who inspire us to be innovative thinkers, quality body builders."

The Auto Truck Group markets nationally and internationally to the railroad industry, major fleets, truck dealers (through bailment pools), and local retail purchasers. The Group is made up of three companies, Auto Truck, Inc., Fort Wayne Fleet Equipment Co., and Layton Truck Equipment. The marketing arm of the new group is under the direction of Dennis Jones, executive vice-president of sales and marketing; Greg Haugen, vice-president of railroad sales, and Steve Nelson, vice-president of fleet sales.

Auto Truck, lnc, located near Chicago in Bensenville, Illinois, has been in the truck equipment industry for over 75 years. With two production facilities totaling more than 90,000 square feet, Auto Truck has been a single source provider to domestic and international markets. In 1987 Auto Truck constructed a new facility, Fort Wayne Fleet Equipment Company in Roanoke, Indiana, directly across from the General Motors Fort Wayne truck assembly plant. Layton Truck Equipment, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was purchased in July 1997 with the intent of providing enhanced services to west coast customers.

In early 1998, to provide more efficient and professional services, control costs, and expand computer and technology systems, the three companies underwent a corporate integration. Sales, accounting, engineering, marketing and purchasing functions were centralized under the new Auto Truck Group and headquartered in Bensenville. Because of strong regional identities each of our truck equipment facilities will retain its original name, Dondlinger states, "however, we will market to national fleets and leasing companies as the Auto Truck Group."

Shared Group Resources The engineering department at Auto Truck supports all three locations, Dondlinger says. Computer-aided design (CAD) drawings are produced with the AutoCad r14 program. The CAD system is compatible with many of the Group's major customers and vendors, bringing about greater precision, speed, consistency and flexibility to the manufacturing process.

The company's computerized tracking system maintains a database of customer records and electronic records of verbal transactions going back more than ten years. "Customers who have been serviced by any of our three locations are now able to make one phone call to Bensenville to retrieve the information they need," says Jim Dondlinger.

Internet email is used at all three locations to communicate with customers and vendors. A drawing and document management system is in place, which allows users to search, view, and modify complete drawings, digital photographs, and documents.

In order to control and reduce costs, the purchasing department has been centralized and is managed from the Bensenville office with buyers at each location. Accounting and payroll functions have also been centralized at the Auto Truck location

The parts sales and local repair/field maintenance sales is now headquartered in Bensenville. The department works with over 100 outside independent repair shops to keep trucks maintained.

"We also have several service trucks in the field and will soon be able to provide repair service anywhere in the country," Jones comments. "This group, as well as the entire fleet and railroad sales group, offers our clients a one point contact so the customer can call one telephone number and have service provided or questions answered by one person - no matter which facility is building or shipping the truck."

Fleet Sales Fort Wayne Fleet Equipment's (FWFE) 23,000-sq-ft facility is strategically located near the General Motor Fort Wayne truck assembly plant, says Steve Nelson. Most of the vehicles upfitted at the FWFE facility are cab/chassis or pickup trucks of 1-ton capacity or less. Fort Wayne Fleet has a GMC and Chevrolet bailment pool which was established ten years ago in an effort to provide expanded services to major fleet accounts such as the Union Pacific Railroad.

"We found the Pools to be so successful that we have been able to offer their use to other large national fleets," Nelson says. "This high volume FWFE shop has shipped up to 3,800 vehicles a year." Fort Wayne Fleet recently completed a GMC ship-through order for 1,200 vehicles on which it installed bedliners, hitches, decals, and tiedowns.

In contrast, most orders at Auto Truck in the Chicago area are for installation of truck equipment on medium- to heavy-duty chassis, Nelson says. At FWFE service bodies supplied by major body builders are most often installed on vehicles. Bodies installed at the Auto Truck facility often are built by Auto Truck's fabrication department.

"Much of the heavier truck equipment is sold to railroads and the bodies are unique," Nelson says. "Auto Truck does not process the same volume of orders that FWFE does, but the vehicles are larger and the equipment is more complex. Trucks recently built by Auto Truck included a wide variety of equipment, such as rail gear, cranes, liftgates, hydraulic tool circuits and welding machines.

The most recent addition to the Auto Truck Group is Layton Truck Equipment Co. The Layton facility is 22,461 sq ft and is located in scenic Colorado Springs, Colorado. Layton has been selling truck-mounted products for over 20 years and has been an authorized pool facility for Dodge, Chevy and GMC since 1993.

Layton offers not only the same products and services as Auto Truck and FWFE, but sells to an existing base of dealers throughout the great plains and Western states, according to Nelson. Layton provides the opportunity for additional growth in the west.

Fach of the three facilities is available to service any customer, Dondlinger says. This type of accessibility is important to large fleet customers who are now able to have trucks delivered from all three locations.

"We do whatever is most advantageous to the customer," Nelson says. "We evaluate the needs of each customer, shop capacity and shop proximity to the customer before deciding which location will handle the order."

Quality Paint Work All three operating facilities have sophisticated downdraft painting systems, Nelson says. The Auto Truck Group assigns much importance to quality paint work. Each facility has the ability to provide an OEM-quality finish.

Before a truck body built by Auto Truck is painted, it is cleaned with a high-pressure phosphate cleaning solution, Nelson says. After drying, a urethane sealant is used in cracks where panels join. Accessories are often hot dip galvanized to eliminate rust and corrosion.

Truck bodies are painted before mounting on the chassis. This eliminates the need for vehicle masking and allows for better all around paint coverage to help eliminate rust and corrosion.

"It's also easier to paint inside cabinets and small compartments," says George Howe, paint foreman at Auto Truck.

An epoxy-based primer is applied 2.5 to 3 mils thick; then a topcoat of DuPont Centari or DuPont lmron 5000 is applied 3 to 3.5 mils thick.

"The underside of bodies are also painted for additional corrosion protection," Howe says.

Inspecting Complete Vehicles Each Auto Truck Group facility has a quality-control inspector who checks every vehicle after painting and before shipment to a customer. The inspector checks the overall vehicle systems, paint and weld quality, and ensures all requested equipment has been installed properly.

"We take a pro-active approach to quality," Nelson says. "Our goal is zero defects."

With that goal in mind, the Auto Truck Group sponsors various employee incentive programs designed to enhance product quality, Nelson says. Adjacent to the conference room in both the Bensenville and Fort Wayne facility is a climate-controlled viewing room where customers can view or inspect vehicles comfortably, regardless of the weather. Customers can meet with the sales staff in the conference room, which has a large window providing a full view of the vehicle.

"Through years of experience, the Auto Truck Group recognizes the issues that are most important to its customers," Dondlinger says. "Auto Truck's mission statement is rooted in these same issues; to provide on-time delivery of continuously improved, quality truck equipment products and services to our customers."

About the Author

Mark Nutter