Fleet Panel image ABrigitte Bernard did double duty at the recent NTDA convention—introducing a new aluminum platform trailer and helping Larry King (a.k.a. Al Cohn) look his very best for the NTDA version of “Larry King Live.”

PART spoof. Part focus group. The “Fleet Perspectives” panel discussion was a light-hearted parody of “Larry King Live,” but it also delivered content no normal network program will ever dare provide — what exactly fleets want from their trailer dealers.

Brigitte Bernard, U S sales and marketing director for Alutrec, made a brief appearance as Larry King's make-up artist. After some last-minute grooming, Larry was ready to go live.

King, who bore a striking resemblance to Pressure Systems International's Al Cohn, had a tough job ahead — uncovering the deepest desires of a panel of four fleet managers. What is it that they want now and in the future? Inquiring trailer dealer minds want to know.

Like every other television show, it was interrupted by commercials. In this case, all were from the National Trailer Dealers Association. King also fielded phone calls from his “national” audience.

Answering King's penetrating questions were: Mike Jeffress, vice-president of maintenance for Maverick Transportation; Pete Nativo, director of maintenance for Oakley Transport; Terry Clouser, director of maintenance for AAA Cooper; and Dan Umphress, vice-president of Fleet Advantage.

Fleet Panel image BDan Umphress and Terry Clouser wait to hear what “Larry King” will ask next.

Here is a synopsis of King's questions and the panel's answers:

Question: What is the most important service your fleet desires from its trailer dealers, and why is this so critical to you?

Answers:

  • The downturn forced fleets to reduce maintenance staff. Some fleets are relying more than ever on trailer dealers to provide service that used to be done in the fleets' own shops.

  • Similarly, fleets reduced parts inventories during the downturn. As such, fleets are looking to their trailer dealer to stock the parts that they need.

  • Provide thoughtful, thorough assessments of trailers. If technicians identify a maintenance concern that is separate from the work that the fleet wants performed, let the fleet know.

  • Provide accurate estimates for the work that is to be performed.

Question: What are you looking for when it comes to fuel efficiency?

Answers:

  • The first thing we want is low rolling resistant tires.

  • Tire inflation systems.

  • Long-term, improved trailer dynamics. I am not sure that we are there yet. There are things that can be done to the tractor and to the trailer. Eventually we need to close the gap between tractor and trailer. A lot of small things eventually add up.

  • Trailer skirts don't work for us. We think it is much more effective to keep the trailer aligned. This affects tire wear and fuel economy. We try to align our trailers annually and our tractors twice a year.

Question: What do you see as a key feature of the next great trailer design?

Answers:

  • Roll stability, improved aerodynamics, lighter weight, greater durability, and better corrosion resistance. We want our trailers to last 20 years.

  • Disc brakes. We need lighter and more reliable disc brakes.

  • Low cost. We only have so much money for capital expenses, and tractors seem to be ramming a lot of expenses down our throats. There are a lot of innovative ideas for trailers that could come to the market, but capital expense limits are keeping us from embracing trailer innovations.

  • Training. As trailers become more sophisticated, we will need training. The Internet is good, but we really will people to come out to our locations to help. It's a relationship business.

Question: How is the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new CSA (Compliance, Safety, and Accountability) program affecting you?

Answers:

  • We are taking a positive approach. We now have two guys inspecting our equipment on all outbound loads.

  • Tires and lights are the biggest areas of concern. We specifically need to develop a tire management policy.

  • Drivers are under increased pressure. Fleets used to not want drivers doing any repairs. Now some fleets are giving drivers bags of parts to install.

Question: Are there any special programs that trailer dealers are not presently providing that you would like to see?

Answers:

  • Maybe some things on the parts side. Maybe you could improve your computer technology.

  • We need national pricing for repairs.

  • You guys do a great job for us. Give yourself a good pat on the back.

Fleet Panel image CPete Nativo, left, listens as Mike Jeffress answers one of “Larry King’s” questions.

For more 2011 NTDA Convention coverage click here