Trucks are getting complex these days, and not everyone thinks that is a good thing. Part of it might be simple nostalgia for no-fuss, no-frills machines, but part of it is cost and convenience. Today’s vertically integrated manufacturing chains, where each component must be just so for precise compatibility, make it harder for smaller suppliers to compete. There are many reasons why a resurgence in simple trucks seems ready to take hold.
On the other hand, there are also many reasons why trucks have gone high-tech. Superior safety features, more efficiency, and modern fleet management tools all give the high-tech rig a definite advantage.
The best thing for a fleet manager to do might just be to let these two radically different approaches to truck design go at it, head to head.
Low-tech trucks are not necessarily vintage machines. Most of the new low-techs are designed to work in rough, remote places, like Siberia, where maintenance options are basic at best and mechanical failure could be life-threatening. These are simple, rugged designs that work hard until they can’t roll anymore.
Most routes in the United States are not so demanding, but the low-tech truck is easy to use, easy to maintain, and easy to pay for. With no on-board computer system, a low-tech truck can’t generate false error codes or develop software problems. Simpler systems mean fewer parts to break, and when low-tech trucks do need repair, finding parts and a mechanic qualified to do the work is easy. All that translates into lower operating costs and fewer days in the shop—and more days on the road, where trucks belong.
But high-tech trucks have their own ways of offering the same benefits of efficiency, while also making the truck safer and more reliable on the road. If a low-tech truck is stolen or abandoned, there is no straightforward way to find the vehicle and recover the load. GPS systems solve that problem. If the driver of a low-tech truck develops some bad habits that damage the equipment or put other drivers at risk, there is no way for his or her employer to know unless the police get involved. Telematics solves that problem, too.
The bottom line is that a low-tech truck is really only ever as good as its driver. Some drivers, of course, are very good, but the addition of fleet management software and related components means that the entire company can act as an integrated team.
Ultimately, both approaches to truck design will find their own niches within the market. It’s quite possible that the low-tech option will gain dominance among independent drivers, or even among some smaller companies that do not have their own shops and mechanics. But head-to-head and toe-to-toe, it’s high-tech for the win for those companies ready and able to act as a team.
To manage a fleet well, a manager simply must know where the vehicles are and what they are doing in real-time.