Industry upgrade

THE SCENE was a recent NTEA regional meeting in Columbus, Ohio, where an attendee claimed 40 companies in Ohio that install truck bodies do not certify the completed truck. Federal law requires that trucks be certified when they are completed.

Oops.

In another regional meeting in Georgia, a similar claim was made — but this time the estimated number of noncompliant companies was 30.

Throughout the series of regional meetings, NTEA representatives heard complaints about industry companies. While the exact numbers may not be precise, their frequency and geographical diversity made the NTEA conclude that the association needed to encourage its members to improve the overall quality of the industry.

NTEA's answer is a pair of programs — one designed to recognize those companies that operate by a certain level of standards and a related program intended to help companies reach those standards.

“You who are going to all the trouble and cost of certifying vehicles are at a cost disadvantage with the companies who aren't doing it properly,” Jim Carney, NTEA's executive director said during a Work Truck Show session that provided details regarding the two programs. “As we conducted these regional seminars, the same issue came up again and again. We think this is a way to recognize NTEA members who are doing the activities they should.”

Becoming an MVP

One of the two programs is called the Member Verification Program. According to Dennis Jones, one of four NTEA trustees who presented details on the two programs, the Member Verification Program is designed to recognize members that have implemented minimum business processes and have demonstrated compliance with required government regulations.

“This program is for all companies,” Jones said. “It is not just for large distributors or manufacturers. It is open to everyone, and it's a program you should get involved with.”

The criteria for the Member Verification Program is separated into two categories:

  • Companies that are involved in the manufacture of motor vehicles. This includes truck equipment distributors and other types of companies that install equipment.
  • Companies that manufacture truck bodies, equipment, and components that are not directly involved in the manufacturing process.

The companies that are involved in manufacturing motor vehicles must meet the following criteria:

  1. They must be registered as a manufacturer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  2. They certify the vehicles they produce.
  3. They have a $1-million liability insurance policy (or risk management plan).
  4. They have at least one ASE certified technician or certified welder. (The entire shop does not have to be certified).
  5. They have a quality program in place.

The companies that are not involved in manufacturing motor vehicles must meet the following criteria:

  1. They have a $1-million liability insurance policy (or risk management plan).
  2. The have certified employees.
  3. They have a quality program in place.
  4. They provide installation instructions for the equipment they manufacture.
  5. They offer a warranty program.

Starting the process

To become part of the Member Verification Program, companies — manufacturer or distributor — must submit an application to the NTEA office.

“The application process is simple,” said Chuck Kimmel, an NTEA distributor trustee. “It requires maybe four documents.”

The NTEA staff will review the application and keep it confidential. Other members, including NTEA trustees, will not see it, Kimmel said.

The staff will review the application to confirm that the company has demonstrated that it meets the criteria. If the company meets the required criteria, it would be designated as an MVP member.

If a company does not qualify, an MVP committee will review the case.

Accepted companies will retain MVP membership for a specific period before having to requalify. The initial term is a year, Kimmel said, but the board's Services Committee may change the term to two or three years.

Members are free to apply at their own pace. There is no specific deadline to submit applications for membership.

Reasons to join

Jones and Kimmel provided an array of reasons to join the Member Verification Program.

Chassis manufacturers are strong supporters of the Member Verification Program, Jones said.

“Such a program offers credibility as the chassis manufacturers address their dealer groups and recommend that their dealers participate in NTEA, whether the dealer joins the NTEA or simply does business with NTEA members,” he said. “MVP will be a documented program that OEMs can recommend to their dealers, in part because the program addresses compliance (with federal regulations). As such, this program can be even more important in the future. If you look at some of the other countries of the world — particularly in Europe — chassis manufacturers already require that body companies be verified to their standards.”

The program will also be used as a business improvement tool. The Member Verification Program and its sister program are intended to help management focus on improving existing business practices.

NTEA plans to conduct a campaign that will promote the Member Verification Program to dealers and buyers of commercial trucks, Jones said.

“Today, many of you use the NTEA logo on your literature and stationery. NTEA will develop an additional logo for MVP members to use.

Mixed response

Jim Carney, NTEA executive director, reported on the initial feedback the association has received.

Some members have objected to the program because they thought the criteria were too strict. Others were opposed out of concern that the NTEA was attempting to legislate the way they run their business.

“That is not the case at all,” Carney said. “We are trying to elevate the operations of member companies, try to recognize those companies that already have programs in place.”

Initial surveys indicate about 80% of NTEA members support the program. About 73% said the program will add value to being an NTEA member.

Negative comments have included the requirement to have certified employees. Such a requirement, they say, is too stringent for small companies. However, Carney said, it costs less than $50 for a technician to be certified by ASE.

Too tough

Another objection was the requirement that companies have a quality program in order to qualify. Some believe it is too difficult for small companies to develop such a program.

“I think there may be some misunderstanding about what we are looking for in a quality program,” Carney said. “We are simply asking that you have some type of work process in place for checking in vehicles, a delivery sheet, or some type of inspection sheet. If you have an NTEA Quality Assurance Kit — and all of you do have access to this — the documentation is available to you free of charge as an NTEA member.

“I think that as we ramp up this program, we will make sure people are aware of this kit,” Carney said. “That way, if they don't have a quality program already, they can get one up and running very quickly.”

Not tough enough

Most of those attending the presentation at The Work Truck Show, however, thought the standards were too low, particularly the minimum requirement of one certified employee.

“Keep in mind that this is a work in process,” said Rob Green, an NTEA distributor trustee. “We wanted to make sure that most of the industry could qualify. We can toughen the requirements as time goes on so that we can improve the industry.”

“We recognize there may be some companies that won't be able to qualify for the Member Verification Program right away,” Carney said. “We want to help those companies get to that level, and we plan to do that with the SPEQ plan. And if a company thinks that they are close to qualifying, they can call our office, and we can walk them through the steps. We probably can get them very quickly into a position to qualify for this program.”

A helping hand

Along with the Member Verification Program, NTEA announced an initiative intended to improve members' Sales, Productivity, Earnings, and Quality — the SPEQ Plan.

Although SPEQ addresses sales, productivity, earnings and quality, NTEA has included a fifth section that addresses business fundamentals.

“We all want to improve our businesses,” said Jim Kraschinsky, an NTEA manufacturer trustee. “This is a living document and an educational training tool. It is a good reference source for management and an excellent training aide for employees.”

Portions of the program have already been completed, specifically the sections on quality and business fundamentals. These sections are based on the NTEA's Quality Assurance Kit and the association's Business Improvement Tips — two projects that were created in the 1990s.

The Quality Assurance Kit considers 30 different elements, including contract review (making sure the purchase order matches the quote), document control (making sure no one in the company is using out of date documents), inspection, testing, and handling work that the customer brings back. Business Improvement Tips includes such areas as evaluating your business, productivity and profitability tips, how to write a marketing plan, how to assess sales people, inventory management, and cash flow management.

Multimedia

The SPEQ Plan will be more than just a textbook, Kraschinsky said. It also will be Web-based.

“It has links to Websites to allow you to delve deeper into topics and to use that information as training,” Kraschinsky said. “There is also a PowerPoint training program, plus section quizzes that will allow you to test your employees to evaluate how well they are learning.”

The business foundation section is already finished. It has such topics as planning, how to write a mission statement or a company vision, how to set goals and objectives, employee relations, how to produce an employee handbook, how to administer employee benefits, how to hire and fire, and an overview of government regulations such as OSHA and EPA.

The quality section is also complete. It includes topics such as creating your own quality system that is tailored toward truck equipment — final inspection checklists, order management, customer delivery checklist, and a truck body installation process.

Coming soon

The two completed sections will be available shortly to all NTEA members. The schedule for other sections of the plan:

  • The sales section is in process.
  • Productivity was scheduled to start in April
  • The earnings section will begin in July
  • The entire project is expected to be complete in the fall of 2005. Sections will be made available to NTEA members as they are complete.

Carney solicited input from the audience about the program, including what criteria should or should not be included for membership.

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