Technology Rules at The Work Truck Show

Alternative fuels, autonomous vehicles offer plumbers a world of opportunity
Technology Rules at The Work Truck Show

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It’s opening day at The Work Truck Show; time to head out on the floor after ingesting a heavy dose of telematics and fuel technology at the Green Truck Summit on Tuesday.

The daylong panel discussion left me with conflicting conclusions. First off, with diesel and gasoline prices hanging steady around $2 a gallon, why would any plumber consider using an alternative fuel? Then again, why wouldn’t you?

At first glance, the math doesn’t add up.

According to Steve Shearson, CNG commercialization manager, Constellation, outfitting a light-duty work truck, such as the Chevrolet Express or Fort Transit, to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) would set you back about $7,000. With CNG selling at $2.11 a gallon the end of December and gasoline selling at $2.04 a gallon, your net savings is a negative 7 cents a gallon. At that rate, even if you drove 500,000 miles a year, you’d never recover your investment.

So, why go green? Incentives might be one reason. Government grants and rebates can lower the cost of investment and close the gap in fuel price. Another reason might be to break away from the competition – think clean, green plumber – fewer emissions, less noise, a smaller carbon footprint, reduced engine maintenance, as well as a healthier work environment for your employees.

Instead of battling over price, you’d be showing customers you care about the environment – about the quality of air their children breathe and the water they drink.

There’s also the opportunity to provide alternative fuel conversion services and become a refueling site.

The Work Truck Show features numerous bi-fuel engine and electric power options that might be hard to justify in today’s $2-a-gallon fuel market, but there will come a day – guaranteed. If there’s one thing plumbers know all too well is diesel and gasoline prices have a history of taking sudden, violent swings – enjoy the savings while you can.

As for driverless vehicles, in many ways they already exist. Cars and trucks have been taught to shift themselves and optimize performance. Some can parallel park, decelerate or brake if you approach an object too quickly or take corrective action should you drift off course.

While a totally autonomous vehicle may still be years in the future, much like the smartphone, it has begun to evolve.  And that’s a good thing for plumbers and the work truck industry, says Joe Thompson, president of ROUSH CleanTech.

“It’ll reduce traffic, maintenance caused by incidents – collisions, accidents,” he says. “The theory behind autonomous vehicles is it will take the characteristics of the best driver in the world and make it uniform within the vehicle for safer and better operation – that’s the theory.”

The reality is – what kind of passengers are we willing to be? Are we ready for a machine to steer and brake for us? I have a hard time when my wife gets too close to the car in front of us and find myself stomping on the floor mat as I reach for an imaginary brake.

Ultimately, autonomous vehicles (like the Freightliner Evolution in Arizona) have the potential to free up drivers to do other things. For plumbers it might be filling out a worksheet, replenishing inventory, coordinating routes, taking orders or perhaps eating lunch.

As for Ford’s big news on Tuesday, the car and truck manufacturer announced that a walk-through center console and power running board options have been added for the 2017 Transit, along with SYNC 3 communications and entertainment options.

“The power running boards are going to make it easier to get in and out of the van,” says Krista Pfeiffer, assistant brand manager for Transit.

The bulk of Ford’s presentation focused on its Super Duty line and the availability of a new 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 diesel engine with a B10 design life of a half-million miles.

It’ll be interesting to see what innovations the other manufacturers have to offer.

Strolling the floor with the lights down low, technology appears everywhere. One item that quickly caught my eye was a full-size, red-and-white, 1960s Shelby Cobra – made with a 3D printer. How cool is that?


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