As the driver shortage and turnover rates remain significant challenges, the investment in premium equipment and comfort and convenience amenities can be offset by lower costs for recruiting, hiring and training. This has led many fleets focus on specifying equipment that can help attract and retain drivers.
While it is hard to pinpoint a specific ROI for individual driver comfort items, Stu Russoli, highway product manager for Mack Trucks, notes that fleets can calculate the return on premium cabs and sleepers as well as optional amenities. “Offering a truck that is attractive to drivers is not only a good recruiting tool,” he says. “but it can also increase driver retention and help avoid hiring and lost revenue costs.”
“Fleets choose a variety of different premium features to make their trucks more comfortable and attractive for drivers,” says Kurt Swihart, Kenworth’s marketing director. “Those specification choices help drivers to feel better about the company they work for and the work they do. Fleets that spend money on premium specs are giving their best drivers reasons to stay. When it comes to ROI, our customers get a two-fold benefit—spec’ing driver features helps with retention, and it also helps improve a vehicle’s resale value.”
With retaining drivers at a premium, Volvo Trucks North America’s Product Marketing Manager, Allison Athey, notes that specifications that promote comfort can have a positive effect on driver retention, career length, productivity, and more. Athey then goes on to point out several features of Volvo trucks that were designed with drivers in mind.
For example, Position Perfect steering provides a steering wheel tilt feature so the driver can position the wheel and clearly see the instrument cluster. In addition, modular storage options, reclining bunks and airline style shades all improve a driver’s living space and working environment.
Volvo Trucks also offers a new ergonomically advanced workstation on its VNL 670, VNL 760, 740 and VNX 740 models. The upgrade provides a flexible living environment for drivers by transforming from a sitting area and table into a base for seating cushions that unfolds into a bed. Additional enhancements include an angled table, a 103° cushion seat angle to improve comfort and connected cushions that can be easily secured.
Kenworth’s latest cab enhancements are found on the Driver’s Studio sleeper on new W990 and T680 models. For example, there is a 180° swivel passenger seat and rotating table for two people, a drawer-style refrigerator, and space for a microwave. There’s also a full-size hanging clothes wardrobe, multiple storage drawers and a large storage area under the lower bunk.
According to Wesley Slavin, on-highway marketing manager at Peterbilt Motors Co., the biggest cab enhancements made by the OEM recently are seen in the Model 579 UltraLoft. The high roof integral cab and sleeper is designed to maximize space to improve driver comfort and convenience.
The UltraLoft also features space for a full size microwave and up to a 32-in. TV, door lock controls in the sleeper, and an optional alert switch that will sound the horn and flash the lights if a driver encounters an unsafe situation.
For the Mack Anthem, driver-focused interior features are concentrated on comfort and convenience. “Ergonomics are key, so we redesigned the instrument panel, moving most used switches and controls closer to the driver,” Russoli relates.
“Another driver-centric detail is a new flat-bottomed steering wheel,” Russoli adds. “This may seem like a minor thing, but it gives that little bit of extra belly room when driving and leg clearance when sliding into or out of the driver’s seat, especially when heading back to the sleeper.”
In sleepers, Mack has added a new panel that puts all the bunk controls in one place. Included are switches for overhead, floor and ambient lights, HVAC system and radio controls, USB and 12V charging ports, an audio input jack and, if inverter-equipped, a 120V outlet.
For the Freightliner new Cascadia, Daimler Trucks North America says it set out to improve comfort with an ergonomic design and noise-abatement technology. Included are a dash that puts switches and controls within easy reach and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel release that has been moved from the foot-controlled position to a steering column-mounted design, making it easier to adjust.
The new Cascadia also features customizable living-space options. The Driver’s Lounge model has been redesigned to include larger passenger and driver-side storage cabinets and a wardrobe cabinet with 4 in. of additional length. There is also a larger microwave cabinet that can accommodate standard appliances and a new, larger refrigerator. In models with double bunks there is a new, easily released telescoping ladder. In the Driver Loft model, a two-seat dinette/work table and opposing seating with seat belts can be folded flat to allow a full, Murphy-style bed to swing down.
Jim Nachtman, Navistar’s heavy duty marketing director, touts International’s Driver First philosophy, which is in place across the product line, including on LT, LoneStar, RH Series, HV Series and MV Series models. This consists of improvements for driver comfort and convenience such as a USB and auxiliary power outlet charging ports within easy reach of the seats and an optional automatic HVAC control that allows the driver to set and maintain the desired cabin temperature automatically regardless of outside conditions.
The range of driver comfort and convenience items offered by OEMs are leading fleets to order premium cabs and sleepers, notes Peterbilt’s Slavin. “Companies with desirable amenities can improve driver satisfaction,” he says. “As the driver shortage continues to affect the industry, carriers are looking at interior creature comforts as a valuable recruiting and retention tool.”