Are you prepared for the coming onslaught?

In the motor vehicle industry, once a somewhat sleepy segment compared to telecommunications or personal computing, the technology curve is sharpening and moving at a surprisingly accelerated pace. In fact, our industry is rapidly becoming a technology. The vehicle as software and the IoT (Internet of things) are common topics of discussion at today’s business conferences.

Our organization is in the midst of strategic planning, which today looks out 10 years, rather than the traditional three- to five-year periods in the past.

At first we were reluctant to view anything beyond three years as anything but dreams and fantasy. Now, our organization is examining what has taken place in the past 10 years and we were stunned to see that we fell way short in our predictions, even five years ago.

We recently held business outlook conferences about the heavy duty (HD) aftermarket in January – (HD Aftermarket Dialogue in Las Vegas) and in March on the OEM truck business – (HD Dialogue in Nashville). The purpose for these two annual meetings is to provide information to the supplier community on the latest developments and future trends in the industry.

Electronic Commerce

After hearing from representatives of several major e-tailers at these conferences, I realized that my views on where the aftermarket industry was headed needed some updating.

It was a fairly easy thing to understand that electronic commerce would begin to play a major role in our industry. But I had not counted on hearing what I did about the key value that these new providers brought to the market, including instant availability at a location and the logistics to support either same-day delivery of critical parts or multiple-day delivery of parts for inventory for planned repair appointments, with much of this performed through cloud computing.

A Real Differentiator

In terms of brick and mortar facilities, the aftermarket parts and service business will probably remain somewhat the same for years to come. The functions performed there, however, will change greatly.

With streamlined logistics for parts availability and delivery, instant service will become a real differentiator. Will a dot-com business replace shops and parts distributors? Probably not, but the business systems and processes used by them will change greatly as a result of these developments.

We in the industry recognize that the primary function of the parts and service business is keeping truck uptime at its maximum. The e-business providers all had that as their primary strategy, but taken to a different level. This is a key area to keep an eye on.

Advanced Technology’s Effect on the Truck Business

Rick Funston of Funston Advisory Services, the opening speaker at HD Dialogue, related significant changes or “shifts,” as he referred to them, in a presentation called Shift Happens! He cited numerous business cases where fundamental changes occurred and market leaders became “also-rans” almost overnight. They had not adapted their businesses to those major shifts, expecting them to be fads that would fade away.

Funston had countless examples of market-leading companies and their technologies that were replaced in the market, almost overnight in many cases, due to unexpected business disruptions.

The Volvo Group’s Rich Ferguson, senior vice president of aftermarket and soft products, gave a presentation on how technology is working to solve many issues related to safety, driver performance, environmental regulations and fuel economy. Much of this technology is relying on telematics and other advanced forms of communications and technology that was non-existent five years ago.

Jon Morrison, president and general manager of Meritor Wabco, discussed vehicle safety technology and where it was headed in the future. There was a presentation by a representative of Clean Energy Fuels on future vehicle fuels, and an official from PeopleNet spoke about onboard computing and mobile communications.

I was sitting with someone who stated that it seems like a truck would probably be operated by something as compact and advanced as an iPad in the very near future. Another person near us stated that the concept was already in the works and being tested.

An Attack is Coming

Prepare for an onslaught of new technologies hitting the market in the next few years. Much of it will be all new and will be game-changing.

It is time to start preparing for it now. You will see new high-tech vehicles with considerably more advanced technology before you know it.

It will be in your and your business’s interest to be as up-to-date as possible. You might want to think about attending events like the Consumer Electronics Show, where there are many exhibits of technologies that are being incorporated into our industry.

At one time I had a subscription to Fast Company magazine, which looked hip sitting on my table in my office. I should have read it. Maybe I wouldn’t have discounted the market’s ability to rapidly adopt new technology.

Even traditional organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are in the process of opening operations in the Silicon Valley. They view, as we all should, technology as critical to success in the very near future.

Tim Kraus is the president and chief operating officer (COO) of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA). Prior to joining HDMA, he served in various executive positions with heavy duty industry parts manufacturers. HDMA exclusively serves as the industry voice of the commercial vehicle product manufacturers. It is a market segment affiliate of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA).