As an industry, whether an HVACR contracting firm is doing service and maintenance or installations, employees need to go to the jobsite to perform their work. They don’t have the luxury of having someone bring in their air conditioner, boiler, or walk-in freezer for repair, like someone might take a computer or a vacuum to a repair shop.

Because installers and service technicians have to be on the road for their job, some going to several jobsites in a day, they need vehicles to drive.

Features and Options

Contracting companies, the ones supplying the vehicles for the employees to drive while working, take into account characteristics that are needed in its work vehicles; these features often are not needed or even available to those buying vehicles for their own personal use.

Chrysler’s Ram truck division offers three vehicles that can be purchased by a regular consumer as well as those buying for fleets: the Ram 1500 Tradesman, Ram Cargo, and Ram 3500/4500/5500 Chassis Cab.

David Elshoff, head of Ram Truck Media relations, Chrysler Group LLC, said, “The Ram Tradesman starts with the Ram 1500 ST trim package and adds useful features such as a standard HEMI engine with five-speed automatic transmission, which balances power with fuel efficiency. HEMI-equipped Ram 1500s are rated at 390 hp/407 ft.-lb. torque, and 20 mpg highway (4x2).

“Also included in the Tradesman package is a standard Class IV trailer hitch with lighted, above-bumper, four- and seven-pin trailer wire connectors. Tradesman also features heavy-duty engine cooling and a heavy-duty transmission oil cooler.”

The Ram heavy-duty truck lineup (3/4- and 1-ton pickups) offers an upgrade in trailer towing, said Elshoff. “Ram 3500s equipped with our Max Tow package now boast the ability to pull an impressive 22,750-pound maximum trailer weight, and offer a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 30,100 pounds,” stated Elshoff.

Two flooring options are available in Ram Cargo Vans: a flat, uninterrupted, high-capacity surface; through-the-floor access to three exclusive storage bins; and load floor tie-downs. Other features designed for commercial use include the commercial-tuned ride and heavy-duty suspension for hauling capability; a heavy-duty radiator; and heavy-duty transmission oil cooler.

Some options that the manufacturer offers to fleet buyers are B20 biofuel capability, daytime running lights, and special paint options, said Elshoff.

He added that “Mopar® offers a number of trade-oriented accessories. They can be installed by a dealer or by the purchaser.” Among the accessories offered is a feature called Uconnect Web, which Elshoff described as “high-speed Internet in your truck, with the first Internet service that turns your truck into a WiFi hotspot.” Other accessories include pickup box utility rails, diamond-plate toolboxes, and aluminum and steel ladder racks.

In addition, the Ram Chassis Cab trucks are available with different upfit bodies. “They range from what we call service bodies, to cube vans, to cranes. These Class 3 through 5 trucks come from the factory with full cabs, but bare frames, designed to be fitted with vocation-specific bodies.”

Another manufacturer, Ford Motor Co., also offers vehicles “designed to meet the needs of almost any professional HVAC contractor,” said Michael Levine, truck communications manager, Ford Motor Co. Communications. He listed the 2012 Ford Transit Connect and the 2012 Ford E-Series vans as such vehicles.

Among other features, the Transit Connect offers a compact footprint and four-cylinder, 2.0-liter engine rated at 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Also, it can haul up to 1,600 pounds and has 129.6 feet of cargo volume behind the first row.

Levine said that the 2012 Ford E-Series is “a contractor’s first choice when they need maximum capability for their jobs.” It comes with a choice between three engines: a 4.6L V8, 5.4L V8, or 6.8L V10. “The 5.4L and 6.8L are available with a compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied propane gas (LPG) conversion prep package. The GVWR is up to 14,500 pounds — high enough to handle almost any product demand an HVAC professional could require from their mobile workshop,” stated Levine.

“For upfitting for specific commercial applications, Transit Connect can be specified with a wide range of shelving units, bulkheads, and other cargo-management systems,” he pointed out. Other aftermarket options on these vehicles include exterior ladders and interior shelving.

To improve fuel economy, Ford offers the EcoBoost engine in F-150s for that purpose. According to Levine, with use of the CrewChief telematics service, “customers report a 15- to 20-percent improvement in fuel economy.”

It’s the Economy

Levine said that based on a survey held at a leading industry trade show, “most professionals in the business have relatively small fleets of trucks with large box vans coming in number one and pickups coming in second.

“The vast majority use their trucks for strictly commercial purposes. The current trend is to extend the lives of the vehicles in their fleets for as long as possible, and they are open to new, sophisticated technologies that will assist them in doing so.”

Elshoff also commented that the current trend in vehicles among contractors is that they are running a smaller amount of trucks, buying a truck for a specific job, rather than a huge one that can do it all. He also said, “They’re [contractors] focused on delivering to the bottom line, and taking a vehicle’s total cost of ownership into account when buying (not simply the transaction cost).”

Customer Service

Because contracting companies rely heavily on their work vehicles, as do other small businesses, they’re concerned with caring for their vehicles. So beyond manufacturing the vehicles, both companies offer services, including those described below, to the end users.

“We [Ford] offer TRAC or open-end leasing (customer has the residual responsibility) to commercial customers, including HVACR. Based on feedback from our field team, there hasn’t been a noticeable trend toward leasing with this customer base,” said Levine.

Elshoff pointed out two programs that small businesses could avail themselves of when it comes to buying, servicing, and customizing fleet vehicles.

BusinessLink™ is a free program that brings small businesses together with “Chrysler Group dealers that are specially equipped to work with small businesses. Nationwide, Chrysler Group’s 489 BusinessLink dealers offer the convenience of one-stop sales and service essential to help commercial/small businesses stay on the road to profitability,” said Elshoff.

Some of these benefits include extended service and repair hours, priority service, 24/7 towing, loaners on select vehicles, and expertise in commercial financing options, he said.

The On The Job program “provides commercial/small business owners a variety of incentives and discounts to assist them in purchasing, servicing, and customizing vehicles to specifically address their unique professional needs.” Incentives through the program include custom upfit allowances, service contracts, Mopar certificates, and cash allowances.

Publication date: 11/07/2011