Bob, please give us an overview of what the NTEA does and what you are focusing on right now.
The primary function and focus of the NTEA is to represent the work truck industry. This involves all aspects — from the OEMs, truck equipment manufacturers and distributors, down through user fleets and fleet management companies — in the areas of new vehicle production, manufacture, design and acquisition.
We are not involved in fleet management after the fact. Our concern is that new vehicles are designed to be safe, productive and regulatory-compliant. To facilitate these objectives, we maintain a technical services department within the association which provides our members with unlimited technical support in many areas, including vehicle design specifications and regulatory compliance.
What does your role encompass?
I serve as the NTEA’s Director of Fleet Relations, which is basically a liaison position between end user fleets, fleet management companies, and the truck equipment manufacturers and distributors within the industry. My concerns are to help ensure that the vehicles fleets purchase are what they really need in order to accomplish their functions and to ensure that the end users understand the issues facing the manufacturers and distributors.
Going the other direction, I try to help the distributors and truck equipment manufacturers understand what is really important to fleets. We have found over the years that there is often a disconnect there. Basically, my function is to try to bring the two groups together.
What are some of the concerns that fleets have raised with you?
One of the biggest issues that fleets are facing in today’s environment is how to look at and evaluate sustainable technology. The industry has literally seen hundreds of different sustainable technologies introduced in the last few years. The big issue with fleets is: How can those technologies benefit me and how can I select the correct technology for my application? We have done a lot of work in that area, providing a means for the end users to understand what the different technologies are and how they can be implemented.
What kind of support do fleets receive from NTEA?
I strongly encourage that if you are involved in the design and specification of work trucks, you gain access to all of the NTEA’s services by joining as an Associate member. We provide our members with unlimited technical support in many areas, including vehicle design and regulatory compliance. We have experienced engineers on our staff whose primary responsibilities are to assist members in these areas.
In addition, we have two other engineers who work out in the field: me and our Managing Director, Doyle Sumrall. We can also provide assistance to our members to help ensure that their vehicles are properly designed and specified, and to offer some guidance as to which technologies they may want to consider in various applications.
Along that line, we have an affiliate division within the NTEA called the Green Truck Association (GTA). The provides a lot of information on the various green technologies, how to evaluate them and how to determine which ones are best suited for your applications.
What trends are you seeing in the work truck and green truck industries?
When the truck sustainability movement first started, it was hybrids, and then alternative fuels also entered the picture. Now, we are seeing a trend where people are looking at all of the different sustainable technologies. Alternatives range from the most sophisticated hybrid down to something as simple as driver behavior modification, and managers are looking for the mix of technologies that best meets their application.
The NTEA supports the use of drive and duty cycle analysis in conjunction with this process. Basically, you can use drive cycle analysis to determine which sustainable technologies may potentially work for you. Duty cycle analysis helps you determine which of those potential technologies will have a real payback.
This approach to sustainable technology is starting to gain a lot of traction. We are working with NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to facilitate the use of drive cycle analysis. I think it is healthy for the end user industry and also for the upfitters because, first, it gives the end users a better payback for their sustainable dollar investment. Second, it eliminates disappointment on the part of the end users when they don’t get what they expected. I think this whole trend has taken off in the last two years, and I look forward to seeing it grow even more.
What is next on the horizon?
The question of what is coming next in the work truck industry is somewhat difficult to address, simply because we are seeing so many new technologies introduced so rapidly. Obviously, I see more and more utilization of telematics to include CAN bus interface. There is a lot of work being done in the areas of weight reduction, integration of multiple sustainable technologies and designing a more flexible vehicle. I think we are going to see more specialization in some ways and less specialization in others.
I think you are going to see vehicles designed to be more flexible, so from that point of view, there will be less specialization — but at the same time, you are going to see fleets focus on specific technologies that will work for them, especially in the area of sustainability.
The entire spectrum of sustainable technologies is growing every day, and I think just the way these technologies are implemented is going to be the future.
Bob Johnson, Director of Fleet Relations
NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry
Bob Johnson is director of fleet relations for the NTEA, a position he has held since 2006. Previously, he served the NTEA in the same function as a consultant from 2004–2006. Johnson is charged with strengthening the lines of communication between fleet end users and the NTEA members that manufacture, distribute and install commercial vehicle components. In addition, Johnson develops fleet management content for NTEA publications and Web sites.
Johnson joined the NTEA with more than 30 years’ experience in utility fleet and heavy equipment design, and most recently served as a national manager of fleet technical support for Verizon Communications. In this position, his group supported a fleet of more than 65,000 vehicles in 38 states.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Fairmont State University (Fairmont, WV), and an MBA with a specialization in general management from Frostburg State University (Frostburg, MD).