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The heavy-duty aftermarket is not an afterthought

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Jason Morgan is the editor of Fleet Equipment. He has more than 14 years of B2B journalism experience covering the likes of trucking and construction equipment, real estate, movies and craft beer industries.

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Sky-high shipping expectations, on-time product delivery, ever-changing logistics demands and evolving technology-infused solutions are all challenges that face the heavy-duty aftermarket. Let’s face it: People bring their personal online shopping experiences into the office, demanding free two-day shipping and superior customer service. It’s no wonder that aftermarket providers have been inspired by Amazon’s focus on its customer. With the recent announcement that Amazon will launch its “Shipping with Amazon” service, taking aim at UPS and FedEx, you can be sure the aftermarket is taking notice.

“We’d better be ready,” said Krishna Natarajan, senior director of steering, suspension and drivetrain for Meritor, as he sat down to discuss Meritor’s aftermarket strategy during a busy Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Week.

Watch FE’s video from the HDAW show floor here.

Meritor has beefed up its distribution footprint, announcing the opening of its West Coast Aftermarket Distribution Center in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., to fulfill aftermarket orders from warehouse distributors and dealers in 13 states. It has also improved its operational efficiency by investing in a new warehouse management system and started development of a supplier scorecard that will rank its suppliers on parts deliverability, purchasing decisions that reduce costs and ease of doing business with them. It’s a three-pronged approach to move Meritor to an Amazon Prime-like model.

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Though technology and automation saturates these initiatives, Meritor aims to keep the customer in focus. For example, Meritor has updated its website to include features like visual search.

“Say you’re looking for an axle part,” Natarajan began, “you can enter a part number and the visual search will show a picture of the entire axle, which has 100-plus components in it, and you can drill all the way down to the part you need. If you want to look at the brake on the axle, you can remove the components in the picture and get down to the shoe, check the part number, add it to your cart and it will get shipped to them within 24 hours.”

The latest step in its strategy was the streamlining of a more complete product portfolio with distinct aftermarket brands that includes multiple price points designed to meet customer requirements regardless of the vehicle lifecycle stage. In the “Good” tier, the Mach parts brand is built for customers seeking high-value, all-makes parts that improve uptime at affordable prices. The “Better” tier’s Meritor, Euclid and Meritor Reman brands offer quality aftermarket parts at more affordable prices. The “Best” tier offers Meritor Genuine brand, designed for newer vehicles still under warranty to maintain original performance and maximize uptime with OEM production parts.

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Not only does this system clarify the value proposition of product lines, it also serves as a total cost of ownership explainer. Let’s say you’re the second owner of a truck and you need to replace the axle carrier. The axle carrier in the “Good” tier offers a one-year warranty, whereas the axle carrier in the “Better” tier carries a two-year warranty. Considering quality and overall cost, which one do you choose?

“Let’s put it this way,” Natarajan said, “if the axle carrier fails in year two and you only had a one-year warranty, then you pay for parts plus labor plus downtime, which is far more than you would have paid for a better product.”

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And that brings us to one key advantage that the heavy-duty aftermarket has over Amazon—parts purchasing guidance. The logistics and management technology that is driving the aftermarket forward also aims to support the personal, handshake relationships that you have with your suppliers.

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“Lots of automation goes on, but it’s no substitute for direct communication,” Natarajan said. “Oftentimes customers have to pick up the phone and call us to find what they’re looking for. That’s an advantage we have—we know our products; we manufacture our products. We’re not a distributor. That product knowledge is almost impossible for someone else to replicate.”

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