8:15 a.m. EST
Paul Kosciolek starts his day juggling schedules.
The fleet customer he had lined up for an 8:30 a.m. meeting won’t be ready until 10:00. So he thinks of an alternative.
“Think Greg would be okay with us stopping in early?” he asks Devon Delcourt, Meritor’s senior manager of field sales for the central region.
“Yeah, should be fine,” Devon says.
They sit in an idling SUV just outside Meritor’s headquarters in Troy, Mich. Paul is Meritor’s district manager for Michigan and Northern Ohio, a role that Devon held for four years before being promoted to his current position two years ago. But “district manager” and “senior manager” titles don’t encompass the responsibility that Paul and Devon have out on the road. They are a part of the more than 110 Meritor sales and support representatives across the United States, Canada and Mexico known as DriveForce, a crack squad of savvy product experts who create and maintain relationships with fleets and dealers. This goes far beyond sales calls.
Paul and Devon drive a handful of miles to Point Dedicated Services where Greg Nichols, director of equipment operations, has his sleeves rolled up and has hit the ground running this morning. He greets them with a smile and handshake and ushers them into the conference room to catch up.
“Our biggest focus is maintaining communication with the fleet,” Paul explains. “If Greg had a truck down, it is a hot load, and we hope that he calls so that we can help get him the parts he needs or troubleshoot the problem. If we’re notified by him or a dealer or his service provider that his truck is down, we’re there.”
“And on the spec’ing equipment side,” Devon adds, “we try to understand their business, what their pain points are, what products we have that can address that. Everybody has different focus areas.”
Greg is responsible for Point Dedicated Services’s approximately 150 tractors and 300 trailers with a split between solo and team drivers primarily hauling automotive parts, running border to border with three terminals in Texas, one in Michigan and another in Buffalo.
“Our trucks are built for fuel mileage,” he says. Greg will look at any new equipment or technology for potential efficiency gains, but building a solid business case for any solution is of the utmost importance to Point Dedicated. Paul and Devon act as a sounding board and equipment education team for Greg to garner insight into what’s coming down the line.
“Devon can come in here and say, ‘Okay, this is what we’ve got. This is new. You might want to try this or that or whatever.’ That’s the advantage, to me,” Greg says. “Or if we have service issues, I can get a hold of somebody over there, and, for me, they’re right down the street.”
In terms of products in development, consider electric trucks, many of which currently have a range of about 200 to 250 miles. What does that mean for Point Dedicated and how can Meritor help? Those are the conversations that the DriveForce team has with Greg and many of the other customers they support.
“The only way electric trucks will work for us is if we can get a consistent 600 miles,” Greg says. “We could put a solo driver in it, and when he takes his break around 550 miles, the truck can recharge. Then we could really take a look at something like that. But in my application, I’m not there yet.”
“What kind of recharge time would you be looking at there?” Devon asks inquisitively.
“The guy’s got a 10-hour break.”
“What if you could get 300 miles and recharge some in 30 minutes, would that be helpful?”
Greg considers the idea.
“Yeah, that might be helpful,” he says. “We could look at that because a solo driver—”
“Because they have to take a 30-minute break.”
Devon’s wheels are turning as he considers electrified axle possibilities and how Greg could put to work in the future. It’s fact-finding fodder for the development of Meritor’s Blue Horizon, a new technology brand representing the company’s emerging platform of advanced technologies centered on electric drivetrain, efficiency and connectivity systems. Initially, Blue Horizon electric drivetrain systems will feature Meritor’s integrated eCarrier, which utilizes an electric motor inside the axle to power the vehicle, replacing a conventional mechanical engine with an electric motor integrated into the rear drive axle. Meritor’s eCarrier will launch with the eAxle and eSuspension platforms to deliver power ranges of 150, 180 and 200 kW in each axle and peak power of 250 kW.
The conversation ebbs and flows, from automated driver-assistance safety systems to the battle to hire drivers, before another round of hearty handshakes and smiles, and then Paul and Devon are off to the next meeting.
9:45 a.m. EST
Eric Kinnie has a backpack slung over one shoulder and another hefty bag in hand as he makes his way to his office. His duties as president and chief executive officer of Kinnie Transportation Group, also known as Kinnie-Annex, keep him busy managing both the equipment and his personnel. He’s a hands-on guy who’s running behind this morning after being waylaid by his technicians, who are neck deep in aftertreatment issues. Paul and Devon roll with it. Eric has an easy way about him. He jokes about never encountering aftertreatment issues before as they make their way upstairs to a conference room to catch up.
As a part of NationaLease, Kinnie Transport pulls double duty running a leasing business as well as its own full-service trucking operation. The company recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, and since its inception in 1918 as a local cartage company, it has grown into logistics, truck and trailer repair services, leasing, finance and maintenance leasing, driver leasing and fuel tax report. For Eric, day-to-day, it’s all about managing the ROI of the truck lifecycle.
“We have 600 pieces of equipment,” he says. “We tend to run lease trucks five to seven years; ten years on trailers. After five to seven years, we absorb it back into our fleet, and then we use them on the Kinnie
Transportation Group trucking side. We usually run trucks off lease another three to four years and then we sell them. We don’t ever buy new equipment for our transportation fleet; anything new you see usually goes to our lease customers.”
Eric walks a tightrope of getting as many miles out of legacy trucks as possible while not falling off the depreciation cliff.
“We have a 2013 truck that barely has 100,000 miles on it, so we’re going to get good use out if it,” he explains, “but we have the same 2013 truck that has 489,000 miles on it—that’s probably not going to make it long.
“So what’s the final straw?” he asks, reading the question on everyone’s faces and gesturing toward Devon. “We were just talking about this. Let’s say you revamp a chassis: It’s a great truck; it was in an accident three years ago and now it’s got a whole new cab on it. So, you’re looking at new cab cost in its history.
“I beat up Devon to get some warranty work,” he says with a friendly smile that speaks to the years of history they have. “So everything’s good, but then let’s say there’s engine stress. When do you say, ‘I’ve spent $23,000 revamping this truck. Do I put another $10,000 or do I just—’“
“Take it to auction,” Devon says finishing the sentence.
“Yeah. That’s the hard part,” Eric says.
It’s clearly an ongoing conversation, one that Paul and Devon help Eric work through, and Eric takes full advantage of the resources that Meritor’s DriveForce offers.
“I jump at any chance they give us,” he says enthusiastically. “If Meritor wants to test a new brake, for example, they come out here and support and evaluate it. You guys were out here every three to four months,” he says to Devon and Paul, snapping to mark the time, the hours and even days that the DriveForce team put in during a pilot test. “For me, it’s like I’m getting new brakes, right?”
Eric pulls his technicians and drivers into the pilot-testing process, asking for their feedback and recommendations to build relationships within his own company.
“They feel a part of it, they really do, and it’s great,” he says. “It brings positivity to the drivers and to the technicians in the garage. Everyone likes anything new that’s going to come out, and when you’re a part of that, you feel great.”
Positivity is a big focus for Eric throughout his entire operation. It’s common ground that both Kinnie-Annex and Meritor stand on, which can be seen in the two companies’ involvement in the Focus: HOPE driver program, a local, Detroit-based program that helps disadvantaged people develop the professional and technical work skills to turn their lives around and build themselves into productive members of the community.
“Our chief executive officer, Jay Craig, is on the board of Focus: HOPE and had the idea to help address this driver shortage issue by partnering with the local U.S. Truck Driver Training School to help people get CDL licenses,” Devon says. “Meritor sponsors students that go through the CDL program, and we partner with local fleets to get them a good opportunity to drive. When I approached Eric with that idea about three years ago, he jumped all over it. And it’s been an amazing success.
“Everyone does deserve a second shot,” Eric says. “If you get someone who really, really wants to work, then you can kind of teach them everything else.”
The Kinnie-Annex drivers that have gone through the Focus: HOPE program are now counted amongst the company’s best employees. They’re loyal, they’re productive and they’re grateful to be a part of the operation, which puts a huge smile on Eric’s face.
“It’s our third year doing it,” he says, “And if we’ve had 15 people that have come to us through the program, then 12 of them are still here. We don’t pay the most; we don’t pay the least. On the equipment side, they’re not sitting in an ‘18 truck. They’re sitting in a ‘13 truck. So what do we have to offer? They feel like they are a part of the company and they’re loyal to us.”
“I thought the Focus: HOPE program was exceptional,” Paul added. “When Devon first introduced me around to customers and I learned that we’re part of that, it makes me feel good about working for Meritor and working with customers like Eric. It brings that relationship to the next level.”
Eric leads them down to the shop floor where his technicians are hard at work. The three shake hands, share a few private whispered words between old friends and head out. Paul and Devon will now head north for a full afternoon of more handshakes, more smiles and catching up with industry friends.
Somewhere in southern California
1:05 p.m. PST
On any given day, John Quiroz, Meritor’s district manager for the western region, and Art Herrnberger, Meritor’s regional service manager for the western region, are either piled into a car or boarding a plane to traverse the vast mileage that encompasses their territories. They’re supporting their customers whose applications are as varied as the terrain ranging from mountainous Colorado runs to black-top melting Nevada desert routes.
“If we’re visiting fleets, then we’re on their schedule. If we’re able to visit a dealer that we are old friends with, sometimes we can just drop in,” Art says, explaining the rhythm of their schedules . “Yesterday, for example, we were doing service work—technical work on trailer products with the customer—and we didn’t schedule anything else. It was almost a full day event with the travel. Other times, we’ll fit in extra customers or fleets in between the events. We have to be flexible.”
It’s job of the senior managers of field sales and district managers, like John and Mark Kollasch, currently Meritor’s senior manager for sales of electrification products who previously held the position of senior manager for field sales in the western region for Meritor for 14 years, to keep their fingers on the pulse of the fleet and dealer base. When a support instance becomes too technical, they call in the regional service managers like Art, engineer-minded folks who swoop in the save the day.
“What I do as a region service guy,” Art begins, “is focus on making sure the wheels roll. Get the trucks up and running, and then whatever the district managers need: a training program with the dealer or fleet or whatever product support is needed. An example might be vibrations, where there’s a driveline that needs to be looked at or driveline angularity, where it might take some time. We’ve had brake issues we take to engineering and work with the OEM.”
“It’s not uncommon for us to get a call from the dealer and/or the fleet, and sometimes almost simultaneously, about an issue,” John says. “Oftentimes, it may not be our component causing the issue, but it’s our issue until we find the solution.”
It doesn’t matter where you are or what your application is, the Meritor DriveForce focus is universal—establish trust, build relationships and help their partners solve problems, even ones that go beyond equipment.
John has a saying: “Strong are the friendships forged in the furnace of adversity.”
“That’s exactly how we get these good relationships,” Art says. “We’ll help a fleet out, and we become friends because we didn’t walk away, even when we found that it wasn’t our component causing the issue. We helped them right to the end to find the solution so it wouldn’t happen again.”
“There’s another saying John likes, which is so true for us in the field,” Mark says. “‘Persistence beats resistance.’ You keep connecting with a customer to build on that relationship. We tell them we’re interested, that we want to solve their problem, and we just keep doing that. Sooner or later, that customer is going give us an opportunity.
“When you are dealing with customers, your personal and professional credibility is paramount,” Mark continues. “What you say and what you do have to be synonymous. That’s how relationships are built and maintained, and that’s how reputations are sustained. Over time, these relationships turn into friendships.”
“That’s the rewarding part of the position: We are bringing technical solutions to our customers, our friends, and knowing that we’re helping them be successful, which helps us be successful. In my mind, that’s what it’s all about.”
“Way to go, Mark,” John jokes.
“You know, it takes a long time to formulate this stuff,” Mark says with a laugh.
“Oh, sorry to interrupt, but I have to tell this story,” Art chuckles, “about the guy from China riding a bike in Alaska on the highway. Can you believe that? He flew in from China to bike in Alaska. We were with a customer and saw this guy on the highway and asked him what he was doing and that’s what he told us. We should have taken a picture.”
And that’s what the industry friendships are all about: Working together on a problem, sharing the solution and having some fun along the way. You can be sure that as time goes on and the problems come and go, people might not remember the solutions, but they will always remember when you were working together and pulled over to talk to the guy on a bike on an Alaskan highway.