Not many customers buy a work truck right off the lot. While there
are standard spec’s for certain types of medium-duty work trucks, customers
generally want some input into what they buy. Gasoline or diesel, single or
dual wheels, crew-cab or single — there’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter chassis
Sure, you can find a few standard configurations in stock
somewhere if you need one in a hurry, but for the money you’re spending you’ll
want to spec’ exactly what you need.
The medium-duty work truck customer is an interesting critter. They
run the gamut from someone wanting to bolt a snowplow to a pickup truck to make
a little extra cash during the winter, to small businesses landscapers or
plumbing contractors, all they way up to utility companies spec’ing cranes and aerial
lifts for field service teams.
There are quite different levels of sophistication in that mix. To
those whose core competency is something other than spec’ing trucks, the
upfitters are there to help with the finer points of vehicle spec’ing.
“We’re usually the customer’s first point of contact,”
says Tyler Moss, vice-president of sales and marketing at Drive Products “We
often get requests to build a truck from scratch, so we offer the customer a
recommendation for the truck they’ll need based on the vocation. Conversely,
we’ll get calls from a truck dealer that carry the customer’s preferred truck
brand. Then we work through that dealer to build the truck we think the
Drive Products acquired DEL Equipment operations across Canada on
April 1, creating the largest truck upfitting operation in the country,
including the equipment at DEL’s manufacturing facility in Newmarket, Ont.
Moss says there are different buying patterns across his customer
base, from those that buy on an annual basis with a plan, to the responsive buyer
who suddenly needs a truck tomorrow because the old truck just quit.
“For the first type of customer, you can order the exact
truck you need. For the other, you may have to work with what’s on the market
at that moment,” he says.
Weight is a serious concern among the jobbers, contractors, and
landscapers. They want no part of a truck that requires a classified driver’s licence.
As you might expect, vehicle weight can influence the material selection for
the body. An aluminum dump body will be lighter than a steel body. The
difference could tip the truck into a higher weight class.
Many Canadian buyers are turning to aluminum for weight savings
and its corrosion resistance as well. On that front, galvanized components are
also gaining traction as the winter de-icing chemicals continue to eat away at their
Even something relatively straight forward, like a snow plow, can
be a challenge with customers that don’t really understand the vehicle
“It’s not as simple as it sounds,” cautions Steve
Kinnunen, president of SK Power Drive in Sudbury, Ont. “A customer will
buy a truck that he or she really likes and come in here asking us to install a
big V-blade plow. It might be a 3/4-ton or even a one-ton with a diesel. Then I
have to explain to them that the diesel engine makes the front end too heavy
for the plow. A gasoline engine would have been fine for the job and we could
have installed the heavier plow.”
Cranes and aerial lifts
“Depending on where the crane is mounted, you may need to up
the front axle rating if much of the crane weight will sit far forward,”
warns Moss. “If you stretch the wheelbase to accommodate a longer deck, it
could impact the payload as well as the rear axle rating.”
The installation could also require outriggers to steady the truck
when using the lift, and it may also require a transmission-mounted power
take-off (PTO). That’s a lot of hardware to fit on a relatively short chassis.
To avoid have to make significant modifications to the chassis,
the upfitters work closely with the truck dealers. “They know the market
and they know their product,” says Moss. “They will usually have chassis
configurations that suit even specialized equipment.”
PTOs are usually not a problem, and with the Allison RDX 2500
automatic transmission being the most popular model in the mid-range weight
class, PTO installations (a core competency at Drive Products) are generally
pretty clean. However, due to space constraints, hydraulics are sometimes
“Nobody is happy about higher cost, but sometimes there’s no
way around it,” Moss says.
Liftgates come in a wide variety of capacities and styles, but
they share a common weakness — the electrical system that deliver the power.
If the lift gate is used frequently on multi-stop routes, you may need to spec’
a larger alternator than the stock unit, and equip the truck with additional
batteries. You’ll need to make sure there’s room on the chassis for the extra
batteries, and the closer they are to the liftgate motor, the better.
“Consider using two isolated six-volt batteries located close
to the liftgate rather than a single 12-volt battery,” suggests John
Houweling, president of Coral International Truck Equipment in Langley, B.C., a
distributor and installer of Dhollandia liftgates. “A pair of six-volt
batteries will hold their voltage better than a single 12-volt battery, and It’s
common practice in Europe.
“You can run the liftgate batteries right down with no risk
to the starting batteries,” he says. “It’s a $2,000 option but very
cost effective over the life of the truck. Just ask anyone who has had a
battery let them down midway through a route.”
He also suggests keeping the batteries close to the liftgate. Over
a long cable run from the alternator to the back of the truck, you’ll lose a
volt or two to resistance. That’s not as critical to the charging phase as it
is to the running phase. “At 30 feet, you have 11 volts rather than 12
volts going to the electric motor,” Houweling says. “When voltage
goes down, amperage goes up. That heats up the motor and wears everything
Sometime, not too far from now, upfitters will have to learn to
deal with battery-electric chassis. In many cases the change in perspective and
process won’t require radical re-engineering because the chassis designers are
fitting the electric propulsion systems into existing chassis. The frame rails
remain, the cab-to-axle measurements will remain the same, and the basic
electrical architecture of the truck won’t change.
Chassis weight is bound to change with the addition of several
tons of batteries. That could drive a change to lighter materials for bodies
such as aluminum, fiberglass or some other composite material. But many of the
drive systems on the smaller classes of medium-duty work trucks are already
The higher voltage drive systems also open up the possibility of
24- or 48-volt drive systems for certain implements, which are far more
efficient than 12-volt systems. Chassis designers and upfitters are looking at
those possibilities now in preparation for the day when battery-electric
vehicles finally hit the street.
“I saw a lot of electric product at this year’s NTEA show in
Indianapolis,” Moss says. “They haven’t really hit the market yet in terms
of us having to respond with body solutions. It’s coming, but we haven’t seen
it yet. Almost every truck maker has electric product in the pipeline, but
we’re still not sure what adjustments we’ll have to make.”
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