It’s obvious, right? Why wouldn’t Great Dane and Aurora Parts want to combine complementary skills and expertise? It seems like a no-brainer but, basically, the non-rhetorical answer is that trucking fleets hadn’t demanded perfection before—and now they do.
So in September the trailer manufacturer (#4 on the TBB Top-25 Trailer Output Report) and the trailer parts distribution giant announced a “strategic partnership” with a common goal: fleet uptime.
As Aurora Parts President and CEO Brad Fulkerson explained to TBB, some trailer OEMs have considered “product support” to mean, basically, making sure trailer parts are available, rather than taking a wider view of improving the ownership experience and “solving problems” for the customer after the sale.
“The manufacturers are becoming more and more aware of how important a fluid aftermarket is—one that’s supported by a breadth of products, a supply chain that can move parts quickly, and the technology to bring it all together. Those are foundational elements of Aurora,” Fulkerson said. “The fleets are asking for—and in many cases, demanding—those things are part of their aftermarket support before they are placing equipment orders.”
Indeed, Great Dane had been keenly aware that an OEM could set itself apart with a more robust product support approach—and that led to discussions of a deeper partnership with Aurora, Fulkerson continued.
As a manufacturer with a large dealer and service network, Great Dane is “essentially a customer” to Aurora’s own nationwide footprint of parts distribution centers and extensive parts inventory. But the real opportunity comes in transforming aftermarket services through preventative and predictive maintenance, achievable by integrating Aurora’s own cutting-edge digital platforms with Great Dane’s telematics solution, FleetPulse.
The goal is a start-to-finish diagnostics and service solution in a single interface, where a fault code is transmitted and the problem identified through the trailer’s telematics backbone then relayed to Aurora’s system, which, in turn, produces a graphical bill of materials for the service manager or technician, identifies the needed parts, locates those parts within the network, and then allows for the parts purchase, delivery and trailer repair.
“That’s all in the same app,” Fulkerson said. “So rather than trying to start from scratch and invest in building those tools, since Aurora already has those capabilities it makes sense to partner with us.”
When Great Dane launched FleetPulse a year ago, the goal was to deliver just such an integrated telematics system to help fleets to solve problems faster and increase uptime by leveraging each trailer’s usage and health data, combined with access to Great Dane’s parts list. Aftermarket support technology clearly provides an important part of the transportation solution package.
“The Aurora partnership is a key layer that will expand our ability to reduce downtime after FleetPulse has identified an issue,” Chris Hoyt, FleetPulse product manager, said. “Our goal is to continue to reduce downtime by both diagnosing problems sooner and getting the issue solved. We continue to look at the entire customer experience, from ordering a trailer to repairing it in the field.”
But Great Dane is not limiting its customers’ choices—rather, the manufacturer’s goal is to pull together the various elements of a complete trailer telematics solution into a seamless package.
To that end, FleetPulse by Great Dane is “supplier agnostic.” As different suppliers develop connected components, the trailer manufacturer works in partnership with them to test, evaluate and verify the data coming from the components is accurate and will meet Great Dane's standards.
“Some of the component suppliers offer their solution as a standalone product, but our goal is to integrate those and simplify the experience for the customer,” Hoyt said. “Ultimately, helping the customer diagnose issues before they're a major problem and leveraging Great Dane's Aftermarket network to resolve the issue.”
For Aurora’s Fulkerson, who became CEO in January after serving as COO and CFO since 2012, the Great Dane partnership is another indicator that the digital transformation he’s directed is coming along nicely.
“A year ago, we didn't have any real ERP integration. We had some EDI capability—so we scored maybe a 2 out of 10: We had the functionality, but you basically had to leave your business system and go to our portal to do the work,” Fulkerson said. “Now we're closer to 5 out of 10, but our vision for everything that we can enact—including our managed dealer inventory layer and our national accounts program—I think that probably in another year [the integration] will be around a 7 [out of 10]. And then hopefully in another year or two we’ll get to 8 or 9, but after that there's some diminishing returns where the 10 always runs away from you.”
Fulkerson also suggested other trailer manufacturers will look to Aurora to help manage their aftermarket solutions, and he pointed to Great Dane’s FleetPulse as a great example of what’s possible.
“Our technology is not exclusive, and we hope to get more OEMs to participate and do things to promote their brands,” he said. “We're creating some white-labeled versions so that other OEMs can brand the e-commerce portions of our network, then restrict it just to promote their dealers or their preferred channels.”
Much as trailer connectivity is evolving in a way that relies on OEMs to provide a platform for various third-party telematics packages, Fulkerson sees Aurora as the provider of a “data hub” built around APIs that connect dealer business systems, fleet business systems, and telematics solutions “in a manner that doesn't require a whole set of new integrations every time there's a new technology,” he explained.
Developing such technology isn’t cheap, but the Great Dane partnership brings with it “some additional scale” that will support a higher level of investment, Fulkerson added. Economy of scale also provides benefits in the supply chain, such as more frequent PDC pickup and delivery.
But ultimately the success of these investments in innovation will be measured in dealer and fleet satisfaction, Fulkerson concluded. For the Great Dane partnership, for instance, increased fleet participation in the Great Dane AdvantEdge Aftermarket Parts and Service program could be one metric—and that means more volume for the Aurora network as well.
To the mutual benefit of the manufacturer, Aurora and their customers, Great Dane confirms that the AdvantEdge program will stay in place to service the 150 fleets already on the program—and those looking to sign on.
“The Aurora partnership will allow Great Dane to have a service provider in markets where Great Dane does not presently have service coverage,” Bill Healy, Great Dane’s vice president of Aftermarket, said. “This will provide the AdvantEdge fleets with coast-to-coast coverage in all major metro areas.”
Likewise, to assess the ROI for the technology, Fulkerson will look for increased participation in Aurora’s own national program, FleetPerform. But beyond branding, he expects improvement in average lead times and fill rates, and for stocking numbers to grow substantially.
“There's a lot that we're trying to do with our technology so that anybody can engage it and they can engage it in the way that they want,” Fulkerson said. “We’re a little less concerned about promoting our brand and more concerned about providing the supply chain and a technology stack that allows people to advance their brand’s experience in the aftermarket.”
Fleets choose the path
Great Dane’s Hoyt noted “the world has changed dramatically” in the 12 months since the FleetPulse launch—but serving customers remains “at the heart of what we do:” Fleets will continue to dictate the priorities in product development, and that includes both hardware and software.
“We have made significant enhancements based on feedback from customers that are running trailers with millions of miles of data generated by FleetPulse,” Hoyt said. “The analytics tools help fleets cut through the noise and use objective trailer data to inform their organizational decision-making: maintenance strategy, trade cycles, redeploying assets, etc.
“As connected/smart components continue to multiply within the trailer space, FleetPulse is there to consultatively guide customers on how best to integrate hardware into the trailer at the time of build, and provide a seamless way to merge all of the various data sources together on the physical trailer—prior to transmitting to the cloud.”