This fifth installment in the blog series explores big changes occurring in the shop.
When you think of expensive items in a fleet’s ledger, you’re probably thinking trucks, fuel, tires, and personnel. All fall into that category, for sure, but what’s really a revenue-killer is excessive downtime. That’s why the shop is the last bastion of defense against downtime. But with an increase in technology and a shortage of qualified techs, that line of defense is getting more difficult to maintain.
There are positive moves, however. One of those is the move forward on “right to repair.” Last September, the Commercial Vehicle Solutions Network, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, the Equipment and Tool Institute, the Auto Care Association, and the Heavy Duty Aftermarket Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which would give access to heavy duty service information for MY 2010 and later trucks to independent service providers and fleets. Unlike the state of Massachusetts where state law requires OEM’s to comply with certain terms and conditions, this coalition MOU is not legally binding and depends on voluntary compliance. However, it’s probably in the transportation industry’s best interest to comply in order to mitigate costly legal battles that might be fought state by state. Now fleets will not have to rely on dealers for necessary repairs, but can either do the work internally or with their contracted service provider.
This leads to the other trend we see in shops, and that is a shift where repair work is completed. As I noted above, the rise in costly technology and the tech shortage makes creating and maintaining an in-house shop increasingly difficult to justify when it comes to expense. That’s because the technology changes so quickly that a fleet must continually invest in upgrades in software, tooling, and training. Continuing education and retraining can be quite costly. In order to justify these investments, a fleet must have a steady and reasonable volume of workload for the specific maintenance function. It’s difficult to justify these investments for an occasional need. My suggestion is for fleets to take a hard look at limiting the number of OE brands and components and find the tipping point where the work demand exceeds the cost of training and tooling. A heterogeneous fleet can come with a huge price tag – the training, shop tools, software, and inventory can be overwhelming. Remember, each engine, cab, A/C, transmission, axle, brake, suspension, APU, and other components have its own complexity and technology that requires training. Then add in brands of vehicles, EPA platforms, models, and telematics, it’s no wonder why the days of a bumper to bumper mechanic are gone.
However, there are still fleets that don’t quite grasp the complexity that is present in today’s vehicles and are convinced they can handle this work themselves and do it for less. Certainly, routine service work can still be accomplished in house or at smaller local garages. However, when it comes to significant repair work, if technicians aren’t trained on the technological nuances of that specific asset, it could result in making a bad situation worse and that could result in excessive maintenance costs, increased downtime, and increased legal exposure. Unless transportation is the company’s core business, it will be very difficult to understand the industries complexities enough to make informed decisions.
With all that in mind, and seeing the increase in maintenance and repair outsourcing, I expect large transportation maintenance providers to continue to grow. The local shop will always exist, but “where” it exists and the “capabilities” will likely change over time.