Service truck maker Stellar Industries Inc. wishes commercial tire dealerships could make a decent profit from fleet maintenance and service.
If they did, they may be more likely to pay for Stellar's own version of regular maintenance for the service trucks, said Tom Formanek, manager of tire service products for Garner-based Stellar.
After lackluster sales over the past year since the company launched its Stellar Service Tracker Global Monitoring System, Stellar is considering starting a renewed marketing program for the system when the economy is on steadier ground and tire dealers may be more willing to pay for the service.
``Everyone is reluctant because it is an additional cost,'' Mr. Formanek said.
Service truck makers also are looking at other product features aimed at making a commercial tire dealer's life easier-and giving the truck makers a competitive edge.
The Stellar product uses a global positioning system (GPS) to track information about a service truck. The actual characteristics monitored can vary based on a dealer's needs, but they can range from operating characteristics to fleet location.
Mr. Formanek said any component on the truck that can transmit an electrical signal-even down to a cigarette lighter-can be monitored. The primary monitoring points would include engine run time, oil pressure levels of the truck and equipment, the transmission's temperature and the oil temperature on an air compressor. The system can monitor the components as frequently as desired, and it also signals an alarm if an emergency arises, such as a sudden drop in oil pressure.
``Those are some of the expensive components that you really want to keep track of,'' he said.
Reports also can be generated to show how many hours the engine has been running. Since service trucks idle for much of a job, actual hours run are more important than miles traveled in scheduling oil changes and other regular maintenance, Mr. Formanek said.
The system also could establish a ``geographic fence'' around a tire dealer's service region. The alerts from this program could show that a service truck is out of its prescribed area. These alerts could signal a problem with the technician who, for example, may be using the truck for his or her own profit.
While many tire dealers have shown interest in the system, Mr. Formanek said few, if any, have signed on the dotted line. He's hoping that will change as the cost of the technology declines. When the service first was introduced, an average system cost $1,500 plus a $30 monthly service fee. The cost now is closer to about $1,000 plus a $20-$25 monthly fee, he said.
``If you wanted every hour to be notified what's happening with your service truck, of course that's going to cost more,'' Mr. Formanek said.
Just as commercial tire dealers promote their fleet maintenance as a way to keep their customers profitable, Stellar is billing the tracking systems as a way to keep service trucks running.
``Their downtime is very important,'' he said. ``You don't want to have an expensive service truck sitting there.''
Bob Schwenkfelder, president of Commercial Tire Inc. in Boise, Idaho, said he would be interested in the service if it was at the right price.
``We've got a lot of trucks and to keep the service consistent through 26 locations, it's difficult,'' he said. ``Depending on cost vs. benefit, anything we can do to standardize the service from our trucks is beneficial.''
Sam Nash, general manager of Piedmont Service Trucks in Spruce Pine, N.C., said his company hasn't experimented with GPS features because the majority of his customers run local operations that don't have much need for the service. The trucks instead are swathed in gauges for easy monitoring of components.
The strongest extra features for Piedmont have been portable and customized equipment. For example, a portable calcium chloride unit can be stored on whichever truck needs it.
``It's not fixed on any unit,'' Mr. Nash said. ``That's been quite popular.''
Other big sellers include portable toolboxes and air compressors that can turn a simple sales truck into a service truck in a pinch, said Mr. Nash, who had worked as a tire dealer in the past.
``We were constantly running out of service trucks,'' he said. ``The problem with service trucks is they sit for six hours, then you need them all. You can't schedule when someone's going to go down, that's just a quirk of nature.''
He said the sets can cost about $5,000.
``Even our regular service packages we're designing, we're constantly looking for ways to make them more flexible,'' Mr. Nash said, citing a mini off-the-road service truck that is priced between OTR and fleet service trucks to give smaller dealers a chance to service a wider variety of tires.
Mr. Formanek said Stellar also is working on programs to extend the life of a service truck, including replacing a truck's chassis and refurbishing its equipment to give it a few more years. That service is practical for trucks five years old and newer since retrofitting an older chassis would be cost-prohibitive.
``I think that's probably going to be something that the customer's going to look at,'' Mr. Formanek said. ``Will it grow? Time will tell.''