WASHINGTON Auto Carriage is one of the oldest truck equipment distributors on the planet — a company that has been in business for 106 years. The Spokane, Washington, company is also one of the youngest truck dealers around.
“Truck dealers have been getting into the truck equipment business,” points out Clif King, president. “Why shouldn't it go the other way, too?
When a Mitsubishi Fuso truck dealership became available, Washington Auto Carriage could point to several factors to help the company prepare for its role as a truck dealer.
First, it has sold used trucks.
Second, the company for the past eight years has served as a warranty station for Workhorse, a Navistar company that manufactures motor home and commercial chassis. Washington Auto Carriage had certified technicians already in place when the opportunity to take on the Mitsubishi Fuso line came along in 2009.
Third, a solid group of technicians were already in place who were trained easily as truck technicians.
And fourth, the company had been successful equipping the FG 4x4 and liked the idea of selling the chassis as well as the snow and ice control equipment that so often went onto the FG 4x4.
“The FG 140 is the only medium-duty COE 4x4 marketed in the United States,” King says. “It has a great turning radius and is a good choice for snowplow applications.”
It has been a slow ramp-up process. Mitsubishi Fuso did not offer a 2011 model, as the manufacturer completely revamped its product lineup. However, Washington Auto Carriage began getting chassis last year, and the 2013 models are now rolling in.
“We are moving some trucks,” King says. “Becoming a truck dealer really adds some diversity to our product line.”
Selling the Mitsubishi Fuso lineup is a team effort at Washington Auto Carriage. The company hired a dedicated salesperson to handle truck sales. However, the company's truck equipment sale team also generates sales leads.
Servicing the trucks is also a team effort. Washington Auto Carriage has four ASE-certified truck technicians on staff — including a diagnostics specialist. The company also has a team of truck equipment installers who are certified in welding and fabrication.
“We had some good technicians already,” King says. “It was a matter of training them on the Mitsubishi Fuso product.”
As a result, Washington Auto Carriage is ready for keeping Mitsubishi Fuso trucks on the road.
“We are able to take care of all common truck service work,” King says. “Although we stop short of completely rebuilding transmissions, we do remove and reinstall them.”
From a parts standpoint, Washington Auto Carriage had already integrated truck parts into it operation, the result of being a Workhorse warranty center. Becoming a Mitsubishi Fuso dealer required adding part numbers, but having worked with Workhorse helped to smooth the transition.
Mitsubishi Fuso provided online training for two members of the Washington Auto Carriage parts team.
Technically, the truck equipment and the Mitsubishi Fuso dealership are two separate companies.
“We set the dealership up as Inland Empire Mitsubishi Fuso,” King says. “But really they are integrated into Washington Auto Carriage.”
Washington Auto Carriage is first and foremost a truck equipment distributor, and snow and ice control equipment is at the forefront of the company's product lineup. To help put snow on its customers' radar screen, Washington Auto Carriage conducts a couple of events in the fall.
The first is an annual drawing for a Meyer snowplow, an event held on the first Saturday of October. A half-day affair, the day starts officially starts at 8 a.m., but the crowd of 300-400 people begins filing in as early as 7 a.m. Washington Auto Carriage feeds them a pancake breakfast and entertains them with music provided by a country western band. Attendees mingle and view displays of truck equipment. The parts department is open, and the company offers discount prices during the event.
Throughout the morning other prizes are awarded prior to the presentation of the grand prize. And, yes, you must be present to win. The event is over around noon.
“Local truck dealers have not looked at us as competitors since we began selling Mitsubishi Fuso,” King says. “They display their trucks. This has become a community event.”
The second major promotion of snow and ice control equipment is a troubleshooting clinic that the company conducts in November. This event typically attracts 70-80 people — owner operators, city and county personnel, and those responsible for snow and ice control at a nearby Air Force base.
Richard Jones, the shop's diagnostic specialist, and Terry Fout, service manager, hold clinics each year featuring PowerPoint presentations on topics such as hydraulic pumps. Representatives from Meyer Products also participate.
“One goal of these sessions is to provide customers with the information they need to make routine repairs in the field,” King says. “Snowplow trucks need to keep moving. The driver is capable of fixing 90% of the typical things that tend to fail while the equipment is being operated. We show them how to do it.”
The clinics attract customers from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
“We max out our capacity each year,” King says. “We have been doing this for 12-14 years. Guys keep coming back. They say they learn more each time they attend, and the information that they receive keeps them out of trouble when they are in the field.”
Becoming a truck dealer is the latest venture of a company that has been around since 1906. Washington Auto Carriage got its start (and its name) building and repairing horse-drawn buggies, stagecoaches, and wagons.
As times changed, so did Washington Auto Carriage. At one point, the company built wooden school bus bodies with roll-up canvas windows. The company also had a stint when it made shackles for the state prison in Walla Walla, Washington.
Truck equipment has been the company's dominant activity during the past half-century. When a group of distributors got together in 1964 to form what eventually became today's National Truck Equipment Association, Washington Auto Carriage was one of the founding members.
“We succeed when we listen to our customers and change with the market,” King says.
What they sell:
Dry freight vans
Snow and ice control:
Tyler Ice Control