Heavy Hitters: Size Still Matters

Heavy Hitters: Size Still Matters
When fleet managers are sizing up the right kind of truck to add to their fleet, they’re working with a three-legged stool. (Photo: GM)

Trucks offer countless considerations and configurations. How heavy duty does your fleet really need to be?

When fleet managers are sizing up the right kind of truck to add to their fleet, they’re working with a three-legged stool.

According to Dave Sowers, head of Ram commercial vehicle marketing at FCA, there are three purchase reasons driving that decision. “First, they care about capability—the truck has to be able to do the job,” says Sowers. “Second, they need the truck to be reliable and durable down the road. And they’re looking for efficiency, not only the cost of acquisition, but with fuel economy and maintenance costs over time.”

As lighter duty trucks become more capable, fleet managers can better optimize their fleet. These days, they might be able to get the same capability from a three quarter ton truck as they would have in a one ton truck.

“Our light duty trucks have up to 10,600 pounds of towing, and almost a full ton of payload in a half ton truck,” says Sowers. “Technology has dramatically changed the truck segment, allowing the fleet manager to achieve more than they’ve been able to in the past.”

Another consideration is maintenance and service. “We offer the Cummins diesel 6.7L engine, which only needs oil changes at 55,000 mile intervals,” says Sowers. “That’s less time spent in the shop, and more time on the road.”

Sowers says the Ram truck chassis is a very standard format, with standard frame rail width, standard cab to axle measurements, so that bodies fit on easily. “That makes it easier on the upfitter and saves the end customer money,” he notes.

Downsize with caution

Weights are an important consideration when assessing truck needs, according to Michael Sinuita, Product Marketing Manager for Trucks at Ford of Canada. “Are you using the truck for payload or towing?” he asks. “Do you have a big crew in that truck? If you’re a light duty user, like a landscaper, maybe your crew size is more important. You’re looking at something like a crew cab and smaller displacement engine.”

Diesel comes with a number of benefits, especially on a heavy duty truck. “If you have big trailers, you’re towing upwards of 25,000 pounds, and a diesel is more adaptable to that situation,” says Sinuita.

He recommends caution when downsizing from a heavy duty to a lighter duty truck. “You may initially be well within a truck’s means, but if you start adding a crew of people, then you’re stretching it. You have to consider wear and tear, the brakes might not last as long, and your cost of ownership could potentially go up.”

As far as upfitting is concerned, there are a few options. “Our chassis cab is an open C channel frame, which is a little more upfitter friendly,” says Sinuita. “If you’re doing a flat-bed, then a box delete is probably fine. But if you’re attaching some heavy duty equipment, an open C channel is typically your best bet.”

Active fuel management

Fuel economy has always been top of mind for fleet managers. “We have active fuel management where our V8 drops down to four cylinders under light load application,” says Donnelly Baxter, Assistant Brand Manager, Chevrolet trucks at General Motors. “We also have active air shutters in our front grills. They’ll close if needed and deflect the air around the truck.”

When service is required, Baxter notes that there are GM Business Elite dealers across Canada that focus on the fleet customer. “Something as simple as doing an oil change on an upfitted truck isn’t something the average dealer can do,” he says. “They may not have the right hoist or a technician that understands that they need to move something to access a repair.”

“It’s very important in selecting a product that you have the right partners to help you not only select the product but service it as well.”

Employee Input

Getting driver feedback in weighing different truck options can make a significant difference to the final decision.

“Talk to your employees. Find out if what they’re currently driving suits their needs,” advises Michael Sinuita, Product Marketing Manager for Trucks at Ford of Canada. “What are they missing in those trucks? Once you get past that and you’re clear about what they need on the truck, you can start getting into other areas.”

Technology has made trucks more comfortable, safer, and easier to drive. “In the past, people struggled to drive large trucks,” says Sinuita. “We’ve added adaptive steering, which reduces strain on the driver. You don’t have to turn the steering wheel as much. And we’ve added a 360-degree camera for getting in and out of tight spots.”

Just another tool

The truck is just another tool, according to Fred Dixon, Manager Marketing, Government and Utility, Fleet Sales, General Motors. “A key part of the discussion with employees is around safety. Today’s trucks come with side blind zone or rear cameras.”

GM’s Stabilitrak can offer stability control not only to the truck but the trailer as well. “This system brakes all six or eight wheels independently to give the driver better control,” says Connelly Baxter, Assistant Brand Manager, Chevrolet trucks at General Motors.

He adds that driver productivity is another area of consideration. “We had the first pick-up truck to come with LTE Wi-Fi so drivers can work from wherever they need to be,” says Baxter. “They can connect up to seven devices, so your whole team might be able to connect to the truck. The centre console is big enough to store a laptop, and we have rails on each side so you can fit hanging file folders.”

There’s a diesel exhaust brake that helps with hauling heavy loads down steep slopes. “Rather than having to ride your brakes, you can turn on the exhaust brake and it’ll use compression from the engine to keep the truck at your desired highway speed. That’s easier on the driver, and also saves wear and tear on the brakes.”

Qualified people

Many fleet managers have to deal with situations where drivers are hired for another function—not necessarily for driving a truck. “It’s a big issue for fleets now,” says Dave Sowers, head of Ram commercial vehicle marketing. “They need qualified people with clean driving licenses who are able to drive their vehicles.”

That’s why fleet managers are trying to move down in vehicle size while still maintaining a vehicle that can get the job done reliably and efficiently. “The more you step up through the product line, you require more driver expertise and potentially driver certification,” notes Sowers.

“If we can put more capability in a lesser package, sometimes the fleet manager can avoid driver training and certification requirements, and still be able to get the job done.”

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