Vocational fleets face many of the same operational issues as over-the-road fleets, and they, too, increasingly are turning to new technologies and options to work more efficiently and profitability.
March 2018, TruckingInfo.com – Feature
A wide range of engine options that allow fleets to spec for tough applications is one of the top trends in vocational trucking today. Photo: International
The advent of new technologies such as autonomous and connected vehicles has put over-the-road fleets squarely in the national spotlight. But vocational fleets face many of the same operational issues, and they, too, increasingly are turning to new technologies and options to work more efficiently and profitability.
Some industry observers believe it will be in vocational fleets where we’ll see the first real-world tests of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, self-driving trucks, self-diagnosing powertrains and other new technologies. Volvo, in fact, recently predicted that refuse trucks working at a walking pace in residential neighborhoods may well be the general public’s first exposure to self-driving trucks.
For now, many cutting-edge medium- and heavy-duty vocational fleets are looking to more established, and often less flashy new technologies, to help them work smart and profitably. And three of those trends are gaining momentum.
Freightliner recently added to its medium-duty vocational power offerings with the launch of the new DD8 diesel engine. Photo: Freightliner
Advanced vehicle safety systems have become a common spec for over-the-road fleets. Yet vocational trucks may need them even more, says Ralph LoPriore, director of fleet assets and processes for Stoneway Concrete/Gary Merlino Construction in Seattle. His mixers and dumps spend far more time in tight city areas surrounded by passenger cars than the majority of OTR trucks. And given the increased congestion in and around Seattle, along with his younger, less experienced team of drivers, spec’ing advanced safety systems for his fleet was a no-brainer.
“I’m really working hard today to try to get as many of the same safety features on my trucks the over-the-road guys are already getting,” LoPriore says. “I’d like to spec my trucks with active driving systems, automatic braking, tire pressure management systems, as well as side-looking vehicle detection systems and human detection systems — which I consider critical for our dump and mixers working on noisy, crowded jobsites.”
But there’s a problem: They’re not all available yet for vocational trucks. “Some of these you can’t spec from the OEMs, and others just aren’t available at all. It can be frustrating,” LoPriore says.
“The amount of requests we’re getting for collision mitigation systems and other active vehicle safety systems has really blossomed in the medium-duty space,” says David Hillman, vice president and general manager for International Truck’s vocational product line. He says vocational fleets typically work in much more dynamic, fast-paced environments than long-haul trucks. As a result, more fleets are recognizing the value these systems deliver.
“It can be hard to quantify an accident that never happens,” he says. “But it is easy to see how a year with fewer accidents affects your bottom line. And active safety systems help control other costs as well, such as missed work, healthcare and insurance costs, not to mention legal fees and settlements. So as this technology has matured, and the acquisition costs have gone down, spec’ing this equipment is an easy choice for a lot of construction and delivery fleets today.”
Safety also means keeping drivers healthy and productive, says Kurt Swihart, Kenworth marketing director for vocational trucks. He says more fleets are focusing on safety-oriented ergonomics to make vehicle ingress and egress safer