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Improved efficiency for trailer delivery, uniform trailer brake regulation highlight NATM's government affairs efforts

DARRELL Conner, a government affairs counselor for K&L Gates — which was hired in 2008 by NATM — said there will be a push this year to gain support for a doubles tow-away proposal.

NATM has been working on getting language into the Transportation Reauthorization Bill that would allow light- and medium-duty trailer manufacturers to haul trailers in a double configuration from their manufacturing plant to their dealers, reducing delivery costs by half.

This configuration is currently legal for boat and car manufacturers but is only legal in seven states for light- and medium-duty trailer manufacturers, which Conner says is “illogical.”

NATM gained support from three Republican members of Congress but has been seeking bi-partisan support and encouraging members to contact the Democratic members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

“We have put together a legislative proposal and shopped it on Capitol Hill and gotten some support,” he said. “And we're looking at the Transportation Reauthorization Bill, which is the major piece of legislation passing through Congress affecting transportation and funding. It has been put on the wayside for the last 12 months. There's a question as to whether that will come back to the fore.

“We have to be prepared. The work we did in ‘09 set us up very well if they do try to move the Transportation Reauthorization Bill. Our goal is to have legislators champion that and push that forward as part of the package. There are a lot of good policy reasons to do it: from air emissions to efficiencies for businesses to reducing the cost to the consumer, so we will continue to push that.”

Conner and NATM also are working on developing a uniform brake standard. State laws vary dramatically: As of 2009, six states had no statute on a minimum GVWR for brakes. Twenty-one states required brakes for a GVWR over 3000 pounds. Two states required them for over 10,000.

NATM, which has been researching this issue for four years through its government affairs committee, has been canvassing other organizations for their opinions on what a uniform brake standard would entail and how it should be approached. NATM wants to work with a coalition of trade organizations and axle and brake manufacturers to pursue the best avenue for legislation.

“Last year, we spent time and evaluated what we want,” Conner said. “What are the parameters we want? And also, what form? Is it legislation, a standard, a regulatory process, state by state? We haven't settled on anything, but we have a good framework for what we would like to see. The safety implications are very important. We are making slow progress. We're approaching the point where we will make a decision on how best to proceed and then diligently execute it.

“We've developed a very good relationship with regulators and legislators. We have developed good ties with individual associations involved in similar kinds of businesses. Those lay the foundation for success.”

Building the framework

Conner said there was “very little activity” in 2009 that affected the trailer industry, but K&L Gates and NATM had a lot of success in interacting with regulators.

“There's more recognition of NATM and what it stands for and its safety mission and what activities it represents,” he said. “You walk around Washington, DC, and talk about trailers, and people don't immediately think about what you guys do. They think about mobile homes and things like that, so you have to explain exactly what we're talking about. 2009 laid a very solid foundation for achieving the long-term objectives of the organization.

“I live and work in Washington, DC, which is 60 square miles, surrounded by reality. We have a situation in Washington where government intervention is in everything these days. The old adage is, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. NATM has done a great job of engaging Washington, DC, so that they're not.”

Said NATM Government Affairs Committee chairman Andy Gehman, “We're working with our regulators to give our message. I hope you all believe in this message, because it has to be consistent. We have to stick with it and keep talking about it before we get into trouble. If we're doing it after we're in trouble, it's just too late.”

Gehman said NATM will continue to refine its techniques, finding the best organizations to work with and the best ways to utilize its resources.

“How do we prioritize the resources we have?” he said. “Is it just our industry, or others in transportation, including the RV and boat-trailer folks? We don't want to spend a large pile of resources on things that have greater impact to others. We will be working hard.

“When we went through the process of picking what company we wanted to represent us, we had two very distinct choices. K&L Gates' method was, ‘We're going to get strategic on who makes decisions. We're going to look through our membership, and on each individual event we need to do something about, we're going to find that this Congressman is the one we need to talk to, and then we'll find a member in that district and say, ‘Can you help?’ We don't intend to have too many parties in DC, hanging out with Darrell, but we do intend on having strategic visits with those in influence.”

Engineering committee work

NATM kicked off the convention not with a keynote speaker, but with a meeting geared to substantially increase its engineering services.

The meeting, held first thing during the convention's first day, laid the groundwork to form the association's first engineering committee.

The association has been addressing engineering concerns through its technical committee, an organization that has been populated with NATM board members. Primarily presidents and marketing executives for their respective companies, they frequently need more engineering representation.

“Our technical committee tends to address regulatory matters, but a lot of regulations involve engineering input,” said Michael Terry, NATM president. “We need to bring our engineering talent together. We are forming a committee where supplier and trailer manufacturer engineers can work together to address issues that the industry has in common.

“We are not out to duplicate what the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association provides, but it's our goal to be a group that people look to as the experts in our segment of the industry. NATM is establishing itself — NHTSA and others are calling for our input. The engineering committee that we are putting together will help us provide needed expertise.”

The committee is open to all industry-related engineers. It will operate as a subcommittee of the NATM Technical Committee. Plans call for it to work on one to three projects annually on topics such as paint performance, electric and hydraulic brake performance criteria, underride and lighting regulations, coupler and safety chains, and tow vehicle trailer rating.

The intent is not to set specifications for trailers, but the group is expected to generate recommended practices for light- and medium-duty trailers, while at the same time not developing standards that would in effect eliminate some manufacturers' products from the marketplace.

“We aren't here to affect competition,” Terry said. “But where we can find common ground, we want to make this a better industry.”

As former NATM president Travis Eby pointed out, the number-one bullet point in the NATM mission statement is to “improve trailer safety and performance.”

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