It looks like happy days are here again for truck fleets and truck builders. The December truck tonnage numbers are in and it looks like trucking is finally coming out on top!
The American Trucking Associations' seasonally adjusted Truck Tonnage Index surged 14.6 percent in December. January freight volumes appear to be quite strong too, which is unusual since the first month of the year tends to be weak. So it appears that trucking is pulling out of the recession, finally.
Fleets that have shied away from buying trucks for the last several years are once again shopping. Truck sales in December were quite strong, and experts believe the industry is at the front end of a three-year equipment super-cycle. With the economy improving and almost every fleet overdue to buy new trucks, it looks like 2004 through 2006 will be very strong years for truck sales.
Boon for commercial dealers?
So, how does this affect you, the commercial truck tire dealer? Well, if you have any fleet accounts still in business after the recession, they are going to be looking to you for help in specifying tires for their new trucks. You're probably going to be asked, ``What tires are the best tires to put on my new trucks?''
You also will probably hear, ``What tires should I buy to keep my old trucks running until I trade them in when I get my new trucks?''
And finally, the ever popular, ``What do you mean prices for tires are going up?!'' (Yes, some things don't change.)
As their tire expert, what are you going to do when your fleet accounts turn to you for help in spec'ing tires for their new trucks? If the fleet is changing its operations or vehicle specifications, it may be necessary to prescribe new tire types, wheel sizes and tread designs rather than those it has been purchasing up to now.
There are a few things you should consider before blurting out a recommendation for the same old tires that they have on current equipment.
Don't forget the proper choice of tires is critical to maximizing the fleet's return on its tire investment and is key to customer satisfaction.
First, you need to have a basic understanding of the fleet's operation and requirements. Even if you think you already do, inquire as to whether they anticipate any changes in vehicle design, usage, applications or lengths of haul. Then zero in on the tire type the fleet requires or wants.
Selecting the correct tire type refers to standard, low-profile and wide-base tire constructions. Low-profile tires have shorter sidewall heights and wider tread widths than their conventional aspect-ratio tire counterparts. They are radial and are not available in bias constructions.
They offer the following advantages over standard profile tires:
* Less irregular wear on steer and trailing axles;
* Increased tread life;
* Lighter weight and less federal excise tax;
* Increased cube potential and productivity since the tire is shorter than its counterpart conventional size, allowing for the trailer floor to be lowered;
* Improved stability and better handling; and
* Better fuel economy due to less sidewall deflection and rolling resistance.
Low-profile tires are, however, more susceptible to sidewall damage from curbs and snags because of their shorter sidewalls. Drive train gearing must also be taken into consideration when converting to low-profile tires since they are appreciably smaller than conventional tires.
Drive axle gear ratio, transmission and engine RPM will have to be matched to the tire RPM in order to obtain the most fuel-efficient engine RPM and ground speed relationship. Usually the truck original equipment manufacturer will handle this issue.
Standard profile tires are taller than low-profile tires and generally are heavier as well. Because of its tall sidewall height, this tire type deflects more than a low profile as it rolls, causing more heat and rolling resistance and using more fuel.
However, a standard profile tire generally will ride smoother because of its greater deflection, soak up more road irregularities and be more durable and resistant to impact damages.
Both the standard and low-profile tires of equivalent wheel diameters will carry virtually the same loads. Standard tires are generally more durable and common in pickup and delivery and on-off road applications. Low-profile tires are generally most durable and common in long haul and regional haul, high-speed highway operations.
Many fleets are now pondering whether to go with the new wide-base tires.
A wide-base tire is approximately one-and-a-half times wider than the same diameter size standard dual tire. It is designed to take the place of two tires in a dual position. The new wide-base tires are produced in 445/50R22.5, 435/50R22.5, 435/45R22.5 and 495/45R22.5 sizes and offer several advantages over their predecessors like the 385/65R22.5 and 425/65R22.5. They can:
* Reduce vehicle weight. (A vehicle equipped with these wide-base tire and aluminum wheel assemblies can save between 1,032 and 1,230 pounds of weight when compared with a vehicle with dual tire and steel wheel assemblies.);
* Increase load capacity;
* Make maintenance easier (since dual tires no longer have to be matched and only one tire needs to be inflated and changed on an axle end);
* Improve fuel economy; and
* Provide, in some instances, more uniform wear on trailer positions.
If a vehicle is spec'd with wide-base tires, the center of gravity can be lowered and stability is improved. Bulk haulers that are weight sensitive frequently use wide-base tires. There are a few over-the-road fleets that use the new wide-base tires as well, primarily for fuel savings.
Unlike their predecessors, the new wide-base tires comply with strict state load-per-inch-of-tire-width regulations, so these tires can now travel across the country without encountering a problem at the scales of any state's weighing stations.
However, dual tires provide better traction, better wear and the ability to limp home or to a repair facility if one tire should go flat. Availability of the new wide-base tire sizes may also be an issue.
Knowing the axle weights of the vehicle in normal operation is essential. You must also know the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) of the axles on the vehicle. Make sure the tire you recommend has adequate carrying capacity for this rating. (The fleet should be able to provide you this information from the truck OEM.)
This is done by dividing the GAWR by four to obtain the weight each tire must carry and then checking the load and inflation tables in your tire manufacturer's data book for the carrying capacity of the tire you are interested in using. These tables show the maximum loads that can be carried at given cold inflation pressures.
The tire size and load range you choose must at least equal the maximum load requirements by axle position.
If the fleet is currently on a standard profile size, it may want to look at the advantages of going with a low-profile tire and remaining on the same rim/wheel size.
If a new vehicle is being spec'd to address changes in operational requirements or to take advantage of a change in tire size brought about by improvements in tire technology, load carrying capacity is still the major consideration.
You must select a tire that is capable of carrying the load and the fleet may be forced to redesign the vehicle's overall dimensions if the tire that can carry the load is larger than originally desired.
Based only on the load and inflation tables, one size and load range tire could be selected for the steer positions and another for the drive and perhaps even the trailer positions, depending upon the vehicle's axle weights.
However, for the sake of economy and simplicity of maintenance and inventory management, the tire size required for the most severe position is usually selected and used in all positions. This is generally the steer tire.