ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (March 1, 2004) — 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.
Speed, usage specs
Be sure you know the average speed that the vehicle will run. Speed has an effect on tire carrying capacities. For tires that will be running over 65 mph, the load and inflation tables may require an increase in inflation pressure and a reduction in carrying capacity to prevent harmful heat buildup.
Some tire manufacturers have rated their tires for speeds at 75 mph or above without adding pressure and reducing load. Other manufacturers have not. Make sure you take this into account if your fleet customer's vehicles are routinely operating over 65 mph. (The chart on page 12 applies to tires that have not been rated by their manufacturers to operate at 75 mph or above.)
Next, make sure you know what type of operation the vehicle is going to run in: line haul (also known as long haul) and regional (also known as short haul) over the road; urban pickup and delivery (also know as local); or on-off road.
Line haul trucks normally make runs that exceed 500 miles, regional carriers operate within a limited multi-state area such as the Midwest, Northeast, etc., and have runs of about 250 miles and pickup and delivery fleets operate just in their local area.
Vocational trucks in on-off road service run both on highways as well as go off paved roads.
Tires designed for over-the-road operations are compounded and designed to produce high tread mileage and low rolling resistance for improved fuel economy. They are produced with long-wearing compounds and tread patterns that are resistant to irregular wear.
Deep tread patterns are provided on drive tires to get maximum mileage and shallow tread depths are designed for trailer tires to further minimize irregular wear.
Urban tires are specially designed to address the hazards that pickup and delivery tires encounter daily. Their treads are specifically compounded for high turning, low mileage applications that are resistant to punctures and other road hazards.
They also are designed to provide good wet traction and resist oil con-tamination frequently encountered in urban use.
Their sidewalls are designed to minimize damage from curbing and have special protector ribs to absorb shock and protect the sidewalls from damage.
Know a fleet's needs
It is important to select the right tire for the fleet's operation.
Mixing tires in the wrong applications is not smart and would defeat their purposes.
Over-the-road tires used in urban operations would tend to fail prematurely due to sidewall abrasion and road hazards. Their advantages of high mileage and fuel efficiency would not be attained.
Urban tires on the other hand will not perform well over the road, either. They will wear out quickly, run hot, be prone to separation and consume fuel. Their advantages of scuff and penetration resistance would not be utilized either.
However, there also are tires designed to work in multiple service applications for fleets that operate their vehicles in combinations of these routes, such as regional and local.
Although these tires will not perform as well as the tires specifically designed for a particular service vocation, they're a good compromise for multi-duty vehicles.
Different tire types and sizes may require different wheel rim widths. Most tire sizes have two or three approved rim widths.
All tire manufacturer data books list the “design” rim width as well as any optional rim widths. A narrower rim offers lighter weight and increased vehicle clearance but may contribute to reduced tire life due to the “crowning effect” on the tread.
Vehicle stability and traction could be reduced under certain conditions. The narrower rim usually does not have as high a load-carrying capacity as a wider rim.
A wider rim may increase vehicle stability by spreading the tire beads, flattening the tread and straightening the sidewalls. The wider rim usually has a greater load-carrying capacity and may provide greater resistance to rim flange wear.
Be sure when selecting a tire that the appropriate wheel has enough load-carrying capacity.
Sometimes the wheel load capacity is less than the tire's and is not enough to carry the anticipated load. If this is the case, a different tire and wheel combination may have to be selected.
Before the final word
Before making your final tire recommendation, there are a few other management considerations that you and the fleet should take into account.
Many of these are especially important when spec'ing new equipment:
* Availability of the tire selected;
* Tire purchase price vs. performance (cost/mile);
* Effects of non-standardization in fleet;
* Additional inventory costs and space requirements;
* Effects of tire down-sizing on vehicle gearing and braking;
* Timing/scheduling for phase-in or change-over programs;
* Added training for maintenance personnel and/or servicing vendors;
* Retreadability and repairability; and
* Legal or contractual (lease/trade in) requirements that the fleet may be bound by.
As you can see, selecting the right tires for a fleet operation can be difficult and complex—which is why your customers will look to you, their tire expert, for assistance.
With thousands of fleets buying hundreds of thousands of trucks in the next three years, you're going to be very busy.
Peggy can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]