Fleets Talk Pandemic, Supply Chain & Parts Pricing – Aftermarket
What did fleets need to get through the pandemic? According to Tom DePorter, senior manager of fleet maintenance at Forward Air Corp., the answer is flexibility. “Every day you’re going to be faced with something you didn’t know existed. You need the flexibility to roll with the punches,” he said during a panel at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue.
The panel was designed to give the parts manufacturers and suppliers in attendance insight into how fleets are coping with pandemic-related challenges and supply chain issues that have led to truck production slowdowns and parts shortages.
Relations, communication key for access to parts
Mike McDonald, maintenance manager at Benore Logistics, said his big lesson from the pandemic was “the importance of relationships if you’re trying to find a part or get a truck in the store or find someone to make a road call”.
Shane Barnes, vice president of maintenance at PAM Transport, agreed that relationships are important. “It’s essential that you have a relationship not only with your OE, but also with the suppliers of all the parts you need.”
The good news is that at least for these three fleets, vendor support was available. “A lot of it is good communication,” McDonald said.
And speaking of communication, Forward Air’s DePorter had some advice for suppliers: “You need to talk to us and let us know if you see any hiccups. Hide nothing from me. Help me figure out what’s going on.
He added: “There are surprises around every corner. The more you can share with us in advance, the better we can make our plans. In more succinct terms, “I want bad news as soon as you know.”
Older Trucks, More Parts
The pandemic and the resulting supply chain disruption has caused these fleets to take a hard look at their maintenance practices. Due to allocations and fleets not getting all the trucks they ordered, many of them are using older trucks.
At PAM, “we’re just going to continue to take good care of them,” Barnes said. “We know it’s going to cost us extra money [to keep the older trucks operational]but the spinning wheels should make up for that.
Benore’s McDonald’s has not seen the truck availability situation improve. “When you look at how far they’ve pushed our new truck builds and our new trailer builds, there’s going to be older equipment that’s sitting on the road for the next 18 to 24 months. We’re going to need suppliers to provide parts to run these old trucks. We will need more parts for the foreseeable future.
Shortages and inflation also mean that coin prices have increased. “In the good old days, we tried to negotiate the price,” DePorter said. “Nowadays in most cases it’s ‘thank you for bringing it’ and we just adjust the price in our maintenance software.”
“There are enough suppliers to keep everyone honest,” Barnes said, adding that the price increases are trickling down to freight rates.
McDonald said: “Our customers are aware of the situation. This year when we talk to suppliers, we just talk about “Can you get it for us”. In the past, we talked about price. Now we are talking about availability.