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Trucking along

Features - Equipment, Industry News

A recovering market has landscapers looking at new options for more efficient vehicles.

Carolyn LaWell | November 29, 2012

When truck and accessory manufacturers gathered with upfitters at NTEA’s New Model Truck Product Conference in September, there was a consensus that truck buying and upfitting is back on the road to growth. The landscaping and lawn care industry, though, is subtly adding to the trucks’ turnaround.

The commercial truck industry has grown 22 percent in the class 3-5 chassis cab this year, says Len Deluca, Ford’s director of commercial truck sales and marketing. The manufacturers that presented at the conference clearly felt the worst of the economy between 2008 and 2010 and forecasted significant growth in the coming years.

The landscaping and lawn care industry has provided a bump for some manufacturers. “It’s doing well for us,” says Joshua Tregear, manager of marketing and communications for Mitsubishi Fuso. “It seems that some of the service sectors are trending upward, and we’ve enjoyed a little bit of an uptick in that particular vocation. A lot of people, once the economy went south, said, ‘I guess I’ll start cutting my own lawn.’ I think you’re starting to see that swing back up.”

That news is contrasted by what upfitters, that also forecast growth, are seeing from the landscape and lawn care industry. It isn’t much.

The Reading Group, which is based in Reading, Pa., and includes the brands Reading, America’s Body Co. (ABC) and Reading Fleet Services, mostly works with landscaping and lawn care clients in the southeast portion of the country. Mike Snyder, director of sales equipment and distribution for the company, says Reading’s business from landscapers dropped about 30 percent and he doesn’t see that number changing in the near future. Lawn care is different, though. Reading, a primary supplier for TruGreen, has seen requests for spray truck bodies remain even. Snyder says he expects that trend to continue because homeowners looking to sell want pristine lawns.

“With the economy, we’re still doing more of the retrofitting, rejuvenating of existing equipment more than new installs,” says Tim Miller, shop manager at Appleton, Wis.-based Casper’s Truck Equipment, which works with landscaping, lawn care and snow companies. “Most of the time they have older vehicles, and we’re actually putting new bodies on existing trucks or just completely going through to do maintenance that has been overlooked to try to extend the life of their current trucks.”

Casper’s Truck Equipment hasn’t lost any of its landscape and lawn care customers, meaning companies aren’t going under, they’re just not spending. For the last two years, clients have been trying to stretch the life of their fleet, even if trucks really should be replaced, Miller says.

After two mild winters, a big snow or two could help Miller’s clients. “We’re looking forward to having a good winter this year,” he says.


What they're buying. Even with a sporadic recovery, some companies are updating fleets. Those with the money are making resourceful decisions and customizing their bodies so they can get every penny out of their purchase.

“We actually did more custom work because we had customers that were saying, ‘If I’m going to put down this investment, I want it exactly the way I like,’” says Eric Fivecoats, design manager for Pro-Tech Industries, an accessories manufacture and installer based in Vancouver, Wash., and Nashville. “Now business is picking up more to provide more standard product line.”

Aluminum siding and tailgates instead of stainless steel continues to be the trend in landscaping because the material isn’t heavy, which means less weight on the chassis and easier doors to open and lift. Other recent popular requests have been dump bodies.

Aaron Breitkreutz, a design drafter for Truck Bodies Equipment International (TBEI), the parent company for brands Crysteel, Ox Bodies, Rugby, DuraClass and J-Craft, says landscapers have requested dump bodies that tilt to the back and to the side and split gates. “In tighter spots they may be able to dump to the side versus to the back,” he says.

A split tailgate allows landscapers to haul multiple materials to a job site at once. “You can put a tailgate in the center of the body,” he says. “If you want to haul black dirt and mulch, they can put them in separate departments. They can dump the black dirt out at the job site first and keep the mulch in their truck, then raise that up later after their done laying their dirt.”

Snyder says beavertail backs remain popular, making it easy for landscapers to lower their gate and drive their mowers onto the truck.

Other customized options include requests for a transverse box that straddles the truck’s frames and has doors on either side, Fivecoats says. Sometimes the boxes are used to keep fuel containers and chemicals separate from equipment.

Sometimes the drawers have mesh in the bottom to collect debris and liquid falling off equipment. He has even seen requests for vents that would allow landscapers to place their boots upside down on a pipe to dry them out if they got wet.

Fivecoats doesn’t always know what company or industry the custom design is for because he doesn’t work directly with the customer. Based on his time in the industry, though, he says Pro-Tech has seen an uptick in requests for options that fit construction, technical services and landscaping companies.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand,” he says. “We’ve hired a lot more people to help with that demand.”


How to work with upfitters. To completely understand the time and costs involved, consult with an upfitter before buying a cab chassis. The upfitter probably won’t spec the chassis or recommend what manufacturer to buy from, but they can offer advice.

“Since our sales staff works with many customers that have bought different brands of trucks, they may have an idea of what’s working better for some companies than others and what kind of features they have,” Breitkreutz says.

It’s important to go in with an idea of what the truck will be used for and what upgrades are necessary. It’s also important to keep an open mind and ask questions. “The upfitter may have a lot of different options that a normal customer doesn’t know about, but that would work great for them,” he says. “Ask a lot of questions.”

The writer is a freelancer based in Massillon, Ohio.

 

New and improved

Here are the 2013 models that drew attention at NTEA’s New Model Truck Product Conference.

Alternative fuels and high-tech features were two of the topics major manufacturers spoke about at the NTEA New Model Truck Product Conference held in Michigan in September. Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Hino, Isuzu, Mitsubishi Fuso, Ram and Toyota were all on hand to talk with upfitters and truck accessory manufacturers about changes in their 2013 models. As consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious and are looking for fuel savings, more trucks are featuring compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), propane, hybrid and hybrid electric options. The percentage of fuel savings from these options varies widely and while CNG and propane are cheaper than gas or diesel, fueling stations aren’t as prevalent.

All of the manufacturers along with more than 550 exhibitors will be at The Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, March 6-8. Until then, find some of the trucks that drew attention at the conference below.


2500HD

Chevrolet offers the 2500HD in 10 different models and eight, single- and dual-rear-wheel 3500HD models.

  • A bi-fuel compressed natural gas fuel system and 6.0L V-8 bi-fuel engine is available on the 2500HD extended cab model. A 6.0L gas V-8 engine with 360 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque comes standard on HD models.
  • The 2500HD models have a maximum payload of 4,212 lbs.
  • Technology upgrades include WiFi, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM Satellite Radio.



Ford 2013 Transit Connect

Ford brought its European van line to the U.S. and is phasing out its E-Series. The big brother version of Transit Connect will be released in fall 2013.

  • Gets EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
  • Includes 2.0L Duratec DOHC 1-4 engine, 136 hp at 6,300 rpm and 128 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,750 rpm.
  • Features cargo length of 81 ft. at the floor, 72.6 ft. at the belt, 48.1 ft. between the wheelhouse and 53.7 ft. maximum height.



GMC 2013 Sierra 2500HD

GMC has introduced 10 Sierra 2500HD models, eight 3500HD models and six Sierra Denali HD models, which include regular cab, extended cab and crew cab bodies.

  • Each model is available with standard gas V-8 or Duramax 6.6L turbo diesel and a 6.0L V-8 bi-fuel engine is available on the 2500HD extended cab model.
  • Has a maximum payload of 4,212 lb. and 13,000 lb. towing capacity on 2500HD.
  • The 6.0L features new powertrain grade braking in normal transmission mode.



Ram 2013 1500

Ram’s revamped 1500 offers more horsepower, more torque and better fuel economy.

  • The new model offers a 3.6L Pentastar V-6 engine with a standard 305 hp, 269 lb.-ft. of torque or a 5.7L HEMI V-8 that provides 495 hp, 407 lb.-ft. of torque.
  • Stop-start function and other fuel improving technologies provide 20 percent better fuel economy.
  • Enhanced air suspension improves fuel economy, ride control and features automotive load leveling.



Hino 2013 COE 195

Hino’s Class 5 COE model is available in diesel and diesel-electric hybrid (195H), which they’re marketing to commercial customers driving mostly city miles.

  • Both models feature Hino’s 5L J05E Series engine that provides 19,500 GVW, 210 hp at 2,500 rpm and 440 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,500 rpm. 
  • The 195 and 195H frames are 33 in. wide and 56,900 psi.
  • Offers a newly designed cab with increased width for drivers.



Isuzu 2013 NPR Gas

Isuzu re-released its gas powered N-Series truck, including a NPR-HD truck, which includes a CNG/LPG alternative fuel option.

  • The low-cab forward truck is available with a three person standard cab or seven passenger crew cab.
  • Both models include a 6.0 Vortex V8 gasoline engine, 297 hp at 4,300 rpm and 372 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.
  • The NPR-HD offers GVW of 14,500 lbs. and body payload allowance of 8,636-9,408 lbs.



Mitsubishi Fuso 2013 Canter FG4X4

The 4-wheel drive Canter FG4X4 is ideal for tough terrain.

  • Provides good ground clearance, locking hubs and constant velocity joints for sure-footed tracking and turning.
  • Boasts 14,050 GVWR lb. and estimated body payload of 8,065 lb.
  • Offers a DOHC 4-cylinder, 4-stroke cycle, water-cooled turbocharged intercooled diesel engine with 161 hp at 3,500 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,600 rpm.