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What’s in it for fleets spec’ing the latest in driver comfort options?

Art by Tammy House

How can fleets measure the value of driver comfort options? According to truck manufacturers, it starts by listening to your drivers and measuring the impact of your choices on recruitment efforts and retention success.

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“Quantitatively, fleets can measure the impact of comfort and convenience items through metrics like driver retention, driver health and recruiting efforts,” said Jacob White, director of product marketing at Peterbilt. “Qualitatively, they can listen to their drivers’ feedback about which comfort features matter the most to them and how they improve their overall experience.”

Ryan Major, on-highway marketing manager at Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), also noted that fleets can evaluate the impact of driver comfort options by assessing recruitment and retention efforts. “They can look at the impact of driver comfort items on productivity, uptime and safety,” he continued. “Fleets that are most often spec’ing comfort items to create a driver-centric environment that contributes to comfort, safety and performance also find it will help attract and retain drivers.”

By paying attention to driver satisfaction with their equipment specs, fleets can measure the impact of comfort items by reviewing their driver turnover rate, related Allison Athey, product marketing manager at Volvo Trucks North America. “For example,” she said, “many fleets prioritize storage in cabs and sleepers, and there is a focus on refrigerators and microwave prep options so drivers have the ability to bring their own food to cook hot meals.

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“More recently there has been a trend toward seats with more adjustability, and features such as heating and cooling,” Athey added. “Since drivers spend so much time in the seat, these upgrades have big impacts. Also, comfortable sleeping arrangements, such as reclining bunks, are increasingly popular.”

Built-in comfort

Some examples of the comfort items Peterbilt builds into its vehicles, according to White, include a quiet cab, an ergonomic dash layout, and the ability to have a comfortable driving experience with easily adjustable steering columns and automatic climate controls, among other items.

“In addition, common upgrades selected by fleets include premium seats and mattresses in the sleeper, and provisions for extra storage as well as additional power outlets,” he continued.

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“Fleets are also spec’ing amenities that will make life on the road easier for drivers during downtime,” DTNA’s Major said. “Popular driver-centric options include customizable living spaces with more storage options, factory-installed CPAP machine prep kits and heated and ventilated seats. Ambient aircraft-inspired LED lighting and dimmer switches help drivers personalize light levels, and there are in-cab training systems designed to be used for a convenient exercise program.”

Some specific amenities that are most often being specified, according to Major, include cab heaters and parked HVAC systems for comfort, and digital dashboards that are customizable based on driver preferences, including systems like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. In addition, popular items include AC/DC inverters for operating smaller appliances, and things that contribute to a smooth, quiet and more comfortable ride such as premium insulation.

Working with fleets and drivers

Manufacturers are also reaching out to fleets and their drivers for input. At Peterbilt, for example, there is a customer council comprised of 15 to 20 fleets that meets regularly to discuss product development plans. “We also hold customer immersion activities where we send engineers into the field to experience what customers are feeling first-hand and get important driver feedback,” White said.

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“This process is built into our spec’ing programs, too,” White continued. “When we sit down with fleets we want to hear what their drivers are asking for so they can build a truck for their needs.”

Understanding the vehicle application is key in order to determine what comfort items might have the largest impact, noted Athey at Volvo Trucks. “Different fleets have different concerns and priorities,” she said. “ Some comfort features also help realize other benefits, such as a comfortable mattress that gives drivers a good night’s sleep so they’re better rested and more alert for the next day. That makes it much easier to find the comfort features that will provide the most value.”

DTNA also gathers input from fleets and drivers to ensure it has a deep understanding of their priorities and challenges, related Major. “This collaborative process is critical to the future development of cabs,” he said. “Focusing on the driver’s experience and using their input is essential for ensuring we’re creating an environment that will resonate with them, as well as help fleets with their retention and recruitment goals.”

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