Massive expenditure on research and development and never-ceasing attempts to improve quality mean that trucks are now more reliable than ever.
While good news for operators, it’s not quite such good news for dealer workshops. The days of regularly rebuilding engines and gearboxes have long gone with truck workshop activities increasingly revolving around statutory safety inspections and diagnostics rather than major mechanical repairs.
So how can workshops survive long-term? By making themselves a lot more efficient and matching what they do to the requirements of modern truck design and the needs of the customer, says Scania UK Aftersales Director, Mark Grant.
This need for greater efficiency underpins the design of a £6m Scania dealership under construction in the Kent, just off junction 6 of the M20.
The first of a new generation of purpose-built dealerships in the UK, the Maidstone branch is based on a model developed in collaboration with Scania in Sweden which will closely mirror an outlet just opened near Brussels.
Sitting on a 2.5-acre site and scheduled to open next January, Maidstone will feature five 25m drive-through workshop bays as well as an Authorised Testing Facility (ATF) so MoTs can be carried out by Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) testers.
The drive-through bays will deliver speed, which means reduced downtime for customers’ vehicles, as well as efficiency says Grant.
“What we’re doing is applying production line techniques to vehicle servicing because that’s the way dealers can make it pay,” he explains. “There will, for example, be tool boards inside the pits so technicians don’t have to climb in and out constantly to retrieve what they need.
“The sheer length of these bays means we can get a tractor unit and trailer in and service both at the same time.”
The bays will also have a major unit repair area with a crane on hand so heavy items such as engines can be lifted easily, although such repairs are very rare these days.
Does this mean that technicians are fast becoming de-skilled? Not at all, says Grant, but the skills required are very different to those of 30 years ago.
“A modern truck has more technology on it than a Formula 1 racing car did 10 years ago and technicians need to understand what the technology is telling them,” he says. “Emission systems, for example, can develop some complex faults and technicians need to interpret the data to solve them.
“At the same time they’ve still got to repair oil leaks etc,” he adds. A high percentage of vehicles are looked after under contract. “Forty-seven per cent of the trucks we supply are subject to full repair and maintenance agreements with quite a few more subject to servicing agreements of other kinds,” he says.
The percentage is rising says Grant, but only slowly. While some operators have concluded that the increased sophistication of trucks means that they cannot keep maintaining them in their in-house workshops, many others are continuing to do so; and in principle there is no reason why they shouldn’t.
“That said, our dealers and their trained technicians have all the necessary parts, tools and software ready to hand,” he continues. “I think that if you are running five to 15 trucks it is likely to be cost-prohibitive for you to invest in everything that is required.”
Maidstone’s location close to the motorway and the planning consent it has received means the workshop will be open 24 hours a day. The ATF’s opening hours will depend on the availability of DVSA testers, however, and while the Next Generation Testing scheme now being rolled out by the DVSA means they will be more flexible than previously, round-the-clock testing is unlikely.
Grant would like to see truck testing carried out by suitably qualified technicians employed directly by dealerships. “It’s a tried-and-tested approach that has long been in use in the car world and I can’t see why it shouldn’t be applied to trucks if suitable safeguards are in place,” he says.
Scania’s 89 dealers submit almost 26,000 vehicles for test annually and achieve a pass rate of nearly 95%. And the response speed of Scania’s roadside assistance service is equally impressive in an emergency.
“On average we arrive within 53 minutes 49 seconds after we get the call, no matter where the truck is stranded – anywhere from Lands End to John O’Groats.”