Life is Good

The title of this article is on my Facebook page as my favorite saying. Any regular readers of this column may find it amusing that I have a Facebook page. But I have six children and three grand children - five of them under the age of 14. This dad/grampa was basically teased into starting a Facebook page.

Being on Facebook is a lot of fun. Plus, I keep up with my kids, who are scattered over several states, and my family that covers the country coast-to-coast. I haven’t started a Farmville farm as of yet, but that may happen at some point in time. (Farmville is an application game where you have a piece of land to plant and harvest.)

My dad and a few of my family members all have Farmville virtual farms on Facebook. They say it brings them back to the good old days, when life was simple. Everyone lived on a farm and you had real responsibilities.

Actually, my dad is the only one in our family that ever really lived on a farm and they had “hired help” to do all of the farm work. But, he still considers himself somewhat of a farm boy.

Life was good in those days. Things were simple. Everyone painted their own houses, did all of their own maintenance around the house and farm and repaired their own vehicles.

Today, things are not that simple, but life is still good. With all of the advances we have made in technology, the average person can’t fix any of their appliances or make anything but basic repairs on their vehicles.

Much of the new technology is a result of our industry’s most innovative designers and visionary marketers seeing opportunities for improvements and providing solutions. Higher value is derived from new and advanced products and processes. If it makes good economic sense, we buy it.

The other technology advancement drivers are government regulations and legislation, always with the self-defined mandate to “help” us. Government usually doesn’t, but sometimes it does actually deliver a good end product.

In heavy duty trucks, we now have cleaner vehicles; doubled fuel economy over the last 30 years; stopping distances that are 20 to 30 percent quicker, and will soon improve by another 30 percent; stability control systems; and more. These gains are typically accompanied by higher costs and reduced performance in other areas. But the trade-offs seem to not have caused the end of the world. Life is still good.

We have a history in this country of allowing demand drive innovation. When certain parties would like to create false demand for say solar power, french fry grease power or fully electric powertrain technologies, the easiest sales tools are our Congress or regulatory agencies.

Most of these products and others, such as ethanol or soy diesel, can’t be cost or performance competitive with the fuels they are replacing, so Congress subsidizes them, usually on the back of the replaced product. In this case it is ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, which is also federally mandated. Kind of ironic, wouldn’t you say?

To make these products work effectively, advanced electronic controls are employed. This is where things tend to get a little difficult to handle with typical skills and training.

Modern trucks employ a range of electronic systems that run the powertrain, brake/stability system and other systems. Many of these systems are so advanced and technical in nature that they require a significant amount of specialized technician training to make diagnoses and repairs. The whole area of telematics brings in another range of things to worry about.

Don’t worry. I am not going to say that if, at my age, I can learn to do Facebook then you should be able to learn how to work on an SCR- or EGR-equipped 2010 engine, electronic shift transmission or ESC system. However, it is important for you to know what is coming down the line in the next few years and how to prepare for it.

I spend a fair amount of time in this column talking about training and skills updating. I think it is safe to say that the changes that have occurred in heavy duty trucks in the past five years could be enough to sideline a large percentage of today’s shop technicians if they do not address the skill and knowledge updating required.

Finding repair related materials and the tools and specs for diagnostics is not an easy task. Truck dealers and engine and transmission distributors have access to all of the tools and information necessary to service the newest vehicles.

If you are an independent shop, you will begin to see major repairs on the EPA 2007 trucks soon, as many are going out of warranty. Will you be prepared for those when they hit your shop doors? You will need to make the same investments as a dealer/distributor in order to play in those parts of the market.

Even though those of you that, like me, are blessed with young kids of the technically savvy type, they will not be able to explain to you how to use a scan tool, diagnose ABS or ESC problems or re-flash an ECM on a truck.

There are several great sources of repair information and systems to work on these new vehicles. Training is available to those resourceful enough to find it and willing to pay for it. Using search tools on the Internet, such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc., is a good place to start.

If you don’t have a technically savvy kid, see if a neighbor or relative has an 11 or 12 year-old you can borrow to show you how to search the Internet using these tools. They might even offer to set you up on Facebook and Farmville. Then you will also say that life is good.

Tim Kraus is Executive Director of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association. Prior to joining HDMA, he served as director of sales and marketing at Triseal Corp. The Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) is the heavy duty market segment association of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Associations (MEMA). HDMA exclusively represents the interests and serves heavy duty product manufacturers.