Too Much, Too Fast

Winning the battle with truck complexity.


Steph Sabo doesn't like being distracted. All the man wants to do is keep his trucks on the road, hauling freight, and he's not happy when maintenance issues keep him from doing that.

Sabo, maintenance director for Nashville, IL-based Norrenberns Truck Service, has been distracted a lot lately by a problem he has termed "truck complexity." It's a big issue; far bigger than even Sabo thought when he first brought it up at a Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) meeting in early 2004. In little more than a year, enough other fleet maintenance managers have jumped on Sabo's bandwagon that TMC has formed a Task Force to study the issues and recommend solutions to the problems they find, and Sabo has been named Task Force Chair.

The Task Force is only beginning to set a plan of action, but Sabo already has a clear idea of what needs to be done. If he can't stop the forces of complexity, he'll try to change the direction in which the trucking industry is heading.

BREAKDOWN X2

Sabo's concerns with truck complexity are rooted in the fact that Norrenberns serves both the truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) markets, and, thus, runs two very different types of truck. And the company has recently added new models of both types of truck to the fleet. That's where Sabo's troubles began.

"It all started when one day we had two different manufacturers' trucks at two different dealers, and they both just dropped the ball," Sabo recalls.

"To me, our main function is to make the trucks roll," he says, "and they just did not get it. And it was over complex issues of things that really weren't relevant to make the truck roll. This has always been bothering me that the trucks are getting worse and worse and worse, and then that just took the cake."

On the day in question, an Inter-national day cab was sidelined with a speedometer problem, and a Volvo was shut down with a turbo malfunction. Both were taken to their respective dealers, but Sabo did not get the kind of service he expected.

"They just didn't seem to care to get the truck in and out," he says. "And the way we operate here, we're a small-time operation, and we pretty much fix all our own stuff, and I just hate turning stuff over to dealers; we hate to let things leave here."

The truck with the turbo problem was covered by warranty, but the dealer told Sabo they couldn't get the turbo. In the end, Sabo had to track down a new turbo himself.

"It just turned out to be a whole disastrous nightmare," he says. "And we've taken things to dealers before, that's no big deal. But nowadays it seems like it's a whole lot worse.

"Any time a new thing comes around it means new training, new everything," Sabo continues. "And while we have these new Volvos, our operations manager, my right-hand man, is spending countless hours on the phone with Volvo, trying to get the VCADS to work, and I'm thinking, 'This is just a waste of time. Why do we have to be doing this? All we want to do is… haul… freight.'"

It was at that point that Sabo started to see complexity issues all around him. Why did trucks have to keep getting harder and harder to understand and maintain, when their core mission is so simple?

" EGR added more complexity to it… So I guess you can see, it's just little things here and there, here and there, here and there. The 8600s came in the picture, the '02s came in the picture, the Volvos came in the picture… and that's really a complex truck."

CHANGE HAPPENS

To understand why trucks have become so complex, it's important to look to the past. Trends that have affected the trucking industry have been evolving steadily over the years: strict environmental regulations; the driver shortage; vertical integration; the electrification of trucks. The trouble is, most of these trends lead to truck complexity. Even the trends that would appear, on the surface, to simplify an issue, can often create unexpected complexities.

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