Shift happens

HDMA held its annual Heavy Duty Dialogue (HDD) on March 10 in Nashville, preceding the grand opening of the Technology & Maintenance Council’s Transportation Technology Exhibition, which is a major part that organization’s annual meeting.

HDD is an annual business conference that focuses on the truck industry from a supplier perspective. It is the only one of its kind in the industry.

The purpose of HDD is to generate dialogue on the major topics facing the industry today. First held in the early 1980s, HDD has always been a conference that provided provocative discussion on a range of topics.

The theme for HDD14 was “Shift Happens.” Discussions were on other industries and how they best, or worst, responded to major, unexpected disruptions categorized as “shifts.” Technology was front and center in much of the discussion, as were government regulations and the economic drivers of the industry.

The information was provided by a range of presenters, from major suppliers to major truck fleet executives, government lobbyists, economists and market researchers.

It became clear that the scope and scale of changes in our industry will be significant.

The supplier and OEM executive attendees left HDD with a large list of concerns, as well as possible solutions and strategic shifts of their own.


Government Regulations

What are some of the shifts that are taking place in the heavy duty parts and service industry? Disruptions come from government regulations. A major shift was caused by all of the EPA’s regulatory-driven activities around engine emissions.

The market response to this was most interesting. Truck buyers purchased as many new vehicles as the factories could produce before the EPA 2007 mandate.

That was because, as part of the EPA emissions program, new and more stringent emission standards began to take effect in model year 2007 and would apply to heavy duty highway engines and vehicles.

Then, truck buying basically stopped for a few years. The result was a significant number of 2006 and earlier vehicles making their way into the market as used trucks in need of repair. Then, the 2007 and newer vehicles began making their way into the market.

Another government regulation shift was the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s antilock brakes mandate. These new, advanced braking systems required special tools, training and expertise.

The parts and service industry’s efforts were directed at the core of the issue: training and education.

Over the years, antilock braking systems and other electronic braking systems have become fairly standard, with shops being able to keep up on training and diagnostic tools.


Rapid Consolidation

Another shift in the market is a rapid consolidation among dealers, distributors and independent shops.

Should a consolidator or a private equity firm be seen as the problem to address or to attack? Neither. It seems when owners sell their businesses, it is usually really their de facto succession plan.

A better question to ask is: For those concerned with the health of the independent shop, distributor or dealer, what are you doing to help it operate as a viable market channel? The word “independent” is key here.


Viability in the Channel

Independents are beginning to work together to ensure the viability of their channel.

Several groups are working on a next generation program to help identify, groom and educate tomorrow’s business owners and leaders.

A successful program in the dealer industry is the 20 Group. These are meetings where small groups of peer executives share their best practices, experience and ideas. One such 20 Group is focusing in on technician training in the chassis and suspension areas.


Leverage Experience

The big, disruptive changes are sometimes so large that many fail to see them coming.

In our organization, we are big supporters and facilitators of peer councils. One person’s ideas are nice to hear and may work for you, but probably not. Whereas 30 individual perspectives on common issues leave everyone with a wide range of ideas, most of them proven.

So, to avoid having “shift” happen to you, think about how best to leverage your association, marketing group, etc., or, start your own.

The wealth of information that can be taken away from any kind of group meeting is invaluable and the best investment you can make.