ACHRNEWS

The Service Truck Of The Future

July 28, 2005
In the future, HVAC service trucks may have a whole new look to them - or they may not. To the naked eye, the trucks may look similar on the outside, but there might be a radically different appearance on the inside. The fit and functionality of trucks may be a whole lot different from their ancestors, the standard van of today, which has been commonplace for decades.

Future service trucks will likely embody a lot of new technology, making it easier for the driver/technician to communicate with his company, customers, supply house, etc. The tech may even have the ability to contact the local municipality to pull a permit, download it, and print it out in the van before arriving at the jobsite.

The future service truck will also be monitored for its every use. Today, global positioning systems (GPS) can track the location of each truck, when it arrived and left that location, how long it took to get to that location, the speed it drove, detours it took, and how many times all doors were opened and closed during the job.

Bar coding a truck's inventory enables a tech to pass a part over a scanner that automatically removes it from inventory - thus enabling the supply house to reorder the part immediately.

Workhorse Custom Chassis strives to make the walk-in cargo area user-friendly. Several options for the interior shelving, cabinets, and workbenches are available.

The Exterior

In order to differentiate themselves from the competition, more contractors in today's market are opting for a distinctive look to their vehicles, choosing colors other than white and incorporating graphics that are eye-catching yet informative.

"Our service vans are an underused asset for customer communications," said Steven Berquist, president of Fleet Impressions LLC (www.copyrider.com). "The days of ‘Bob's Heating & Cooling, 123-4567' along with equipment brand logos are gone. Similarly, listing ‘Bob's Heating & Cooling' followed by small lettering detailing all of Bob's different services is passé. People don't read them. These graphics - like much other advertising - have become part of the landscape.

"Those companies who strive to make their service vans visible will help to ensure their long-term success."

Since we live in an "instant messaging" world, it's likely using a service van as a rolling instant message will be commonplace in the future.

"With the advent of scrolling sign systems, presenting multiple messages during time in traffic, service vans of the future will be used for that purpose," said Berquist. He noted that HVAC contractors with any size fleet "can positively communicate - with quality impressions - to those people on the same roadway as they are on, their customers and prospects."

Besides scrolling messages and easy-to-read graphics, future service trucks will continue to act as moving billboards as companies find alternatives to traditional advertising. One industry on the rise is the vinyl "wrap" signage industry. Adams Hudson, owner of Hudson, Ink (www.hudsonink.com), said this is the big trend in truck graphics. "There is definitely an increase in full-bodied wraps," he said. "There is also an increase in chameleon-type paints that change in certain lighting conditions."

This Dodge Sprinter 3500 Cab Chassis includes a service body up-fit.
Hudson also encourages business owners who work in downtown areas with high-rise buildings to advertise on top of the trucks. "I've been talking about this for years, and I think roof graphics are important, especially when a Web site name is added."

Will the inclusion of high-tech gadgetry and more inventory change the shape and design of a service truck? In order to achieve optimum fuel efficiency and safe handling, that scenario is very likely.

"As part of the overall design process, new construction advancements will allow greater use of lightweight, high-strength materials used by second-tier manufacturers in order to reduce weight for more payload and better fuel economy," noted Randy Jones, communication manager for DaimlerChrysler Motors Co. LLC (www.daimlerchrysler.com).

"This will also lend support to existing trends toward broader offerings in light-duty and medium-duty class vehicles."

Berquist believes that the Dodge Sprinter van series is a prototype for future service trucks. "From a body-style perspective, I am convinced that the Dodge Sprinter and variations thereof will replace the current ‘cargo van' service truck," he said. "Varying lengths, heights, and interior configurations make them very flexible work platforms."

Pictured here is a Step Van from Workhorse Custom Chassis.

Interior Mechanisms

There is no question that field technicians spend a lot of time commuting between jobsites and/or traveling to supply houses. Travel time is usually non-billable time, so the more efficient and less time-consuming the travel, the better it is for the bottom line.

According to Berquist, the next generation of service vans will continue to spend 25 percent to 35 percent of the day on the road. In metropolitan areas, congestion increases each year, resulting in an increase in average commuting time of 10 percent per year. The current average of 101 minutes per day people spend in their cars is expected to rise.

Convenience and comfort will become increasingly important. In the future, the driver will enjoy a more upright seating position. "This will enhance his or her ability to perform the necessary pre- and post-job paperwork/computer tasks," Berquist said. "These types of vehicles are also easier to get into and out of, making life just a little nicer for those of us who are ‘more mature' and still do service work."

"The service truck of the future will excel in driver convenience as well as business productivity, with its overall performance a match for any truck on the road," stated Shane Terblanche, director of commercial strategy for Workhorse Custom Chassis (www.workhorsecc.com).

"From the instrument panel in front to the backup cameras in the rear, many high-tech features have come to the fore."

Terblanche said his company focuses on manufacturing processes designed to make the walk-in cargo area more user-friendly. The goal is to enable the truck to hold more equipment, while providing added work area.

"It's the easy-access and spacious standup cargo area that remains the walk-ins prime advantage as a service vehicle," he said. "And here things are getting both easier and more sophisticated as well. Specific up-fit packages (shelving, workbenches, bins, cabinets, etc.) for specific trades can now be ordered direct from the factory, as well as through local firms. Workhorse, in fact, is the only company to provide a complete walk-in truck chassis and basic body in one order with one warranty.

"There's almost no limit as to what you can do to customize a walk-in, from adding a cherry picker to workshop air conditioning. And with a noncorrosive aluminum body, the truck's up-fit investment has been known to last upwards of 15 to 20 years."

Some companies allow their employees to take vehicles home each night, which often means a lengthy commute in the morning.

Jones noted, "As it is today, more and more dual sharing of work vehicles for both business and personal (even family) use can be expected as continued improvements and enhancements in convenience/creature comforts, handling, and options continue.

"Consistent with today's trends, Dodge will focus on improving interior space, flexibility, capacity and safety features, while reducing user costs by improving fuel economy and extending maintenance intervals."

That may mean more "oomph" when the driver puts a foot to the accelerator.

"Looking ahead, continued emphasis on existing themes of ‘more power,' resulting in significant increases in horsepower, torque, towing, and payload, is likely and should be expected," Jones stated.

"Opportunities for new technologies and alternative fuels will also be explored."

One of the new technologies involves the use of hybrid fuel options. The future is here for passenger vehicles, but what about service trucks? DaimlerChrysler has assembled three commercial vehicles - two light-duty utility trucks slated for California and a public transit van for Kansas City, Mo. - all based on the company's Sprinter truck.

In place of the Sprinter's standard 156-horsepower diesel engine, the utility vans are going to be outfitted with a hybrid gasoline-electric propulsion system and a "beefed up" battery pack that can be recharged by plugging it in.

Publication date: 08/01/2005