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Truck-buying process requires planning, patience

June 15, 2023 By    

LP Gas magazine asked some of the propane industry’s truck companies about their offerings, the recovering supply chain and what they’re hearing from propane marketers when it comes to their trucking needs. Participating in our Q&A are Chris Buck of Buck’s Trucks, Nathan Roberts of Fisk Tank Carrier, Jason Soulon of Westmor Industries, Ryan Eidsness of TerraVest Industries and John Hawkins of H&H Sales Co.

What do our readers – the propane marketers – need to know about your company, pertaining to your truck offerings, in 2023?

Buck: Buck’s Trucks specializes in the buying and selling of new and used beverage style trucks. We have a large and ever-changing inventory of trucks that can be utilized for propane distribution. With a still-recovering supply chain, we work best when we hear from customers and have the opportunity to seek out trucks for them on a case-by-case basis.

Driver preferences factor into truck decisions now more than ever. (Photo by LP Gas staff) _ truck-buying

Driver preferences factor into truck decisions now more than ever. (Photo by LP Gas staff)

Roberts: This is a company that has listened to the customers, and the trucks that we’re selling have been designed by all the previous customers. Everything has really been out of customers teaching us what they need, and that’s where these packages come from.

Soulon: It’s just more important than ever to plan well in advance. Although the supply chain has gotten a little better, lead times can still be six months or a year or longer, mainly due to the chassis. We’re still on allocation for trucks. So, as we’ve seen this develop over the past three years, we’ve gone out and built new relationships [with manufacturers and dealers].

Eidsness: TerraVest Industries offers multiple manufacturing locations across the U.S. and Canada for a large variety of compressed gas storage and transport equipment, including bobtails and crane service trucks. Depending on wherever the customer is located, they probably aren’t far from one of our manufacturing and/or parts and service locations.

Hawkins: We’re still taking orders; I just don’t know when they’re going to get built, so I can’t guarantee we’ll have them by a certain date. There are still shortages of engines, axles and tires. It’s not just [computer] chips anymore; it’s all items going into making the vehicle. Our cranes, liftgates and ancillary equipment all have long lead times too.

What have you been hearing from propane marketers when it comes to their truck needs?

Buck: From our experience, most of the propane marketers that we have worked with are looking for used equipment that varies from larger straight trucks to tractors and beverage-style trailers. Common denominators include 10-12 bay body sizes in straight trucks, diesel engines, automatic transmissions and relatively low mileages and a good maintenance program. Tractors and trailers would typically consist of 16-20 bay trailers and tractors with automatic transmissions.

Soulon: Drivers. Everybody knows drivers is the No. 1 issue. What we’ve seen a trend in is, especially with the independent marketers, the owner used to just call and spec out the truck. Well, now we’re having conference calls with the owner and the driver who’s gonna get that particular truck. And they’re giving that driver a lot of leeway to say, “Hey, I want this. I want that.” So, we’re seeing more driver involvement in the spec’ing process.

Roberts: Right now, it’s to secure chassis to be able to continue operations as normal. Things [in the supply chain] are a lot slower than they used to be, and something could be missing to build the unit. Every week it’s changing. We thought we were through it, but it seems recently it’s gotten worse again. We try to plan the best we can. We plan uncertainty into our plans because you just don’t know what you can count on anymore, so we’re being very loose and agile and just trying to do the best we can with the cards that are provided at this point.

Truck companies that serve the propane industry are experiencing difficulties securing chassis with the exact specifications marketers are requesting due to delays on the manufacturing side. (Photo courtesy of Drew James Productions)

Truck companies that serve the propane industry are experiencing difficulties securing chassis with the exact specifications marketers are requesting due to delays on the manufacturing side. (Photo courtesy of Drew James Productions)

Eidsness: There still is a pent-up demand for all sizes of chassis. Marketers have been waiting for truck availability to loosen over the last couple of years, and there have been some glimpses of it opening up, but it’s still not like back in 2019. Customers that couldn’t wait probably had to settle for trucks that may not have been their ideal specifications.

Hawkins: Mostly they’re looking at replacing their truck. Some are 5, 10 or 12 years old, now to the point of trying to keep it patched up and on the road. We’re doing a lot of repair work right now for the industry. We don’t do anything on the chassis cab, but anything on the back end – the cranes, the liftgates or any other type of equipment we install – we’re doing repairs weekly, monthly on some of these trucks, just to keep them on the road.

Is the truck market still experiencing issues with the supply chain, parts availability and/or labor? If so, in what areas specifically and how are you managing around it?

Buck: Yes – very much so. As we understand it, computer chips will continue to be slow until the end of 2023, when several new plants are scheduled to come online in the U.S. So, we expect slow truck deliveries to continue until that normalizes. The slowing of the U.S. economy has helped alleviate supply as new truck orders are down somewhat across the board. For our business, this supply constriction seems to be the issue of most consequence versus parts and/or labor.

Soulon: Two years ago, I said we’ll be out of this by the end of ’22, and here we are. It’s definitely gotten a lot better. We have not seen inflation at the rate we saw a year, a year-and-a-half ago. We’ve actually seen some plateauing of prices. Surcharges have gotten a lot less substantial.

Roberts: We can provide them anything they want when it comes to the body. We don’t have a problem with cranes; we don’t have a problem with anything on the backside. But when it comes to the chassis, it’s not a pick-and-choose type situation.

Eidsness: Truck chassis are limited. People who have been waiting for a couple of years for things to open up a bit more are finding they have to take chassis without their exact specifications. Even the limited stock that is available is seeing issues with recalls from all manufacturers increasing delays. To help customers get by in the interim, we do offer service and refurbishment services as an option for trucks and trailers to prolong the life of their units. We are somewhat at the mercy of the truck manufacturers also, but our service and refurbishment business is increasing as a result. This can be a great workaround for many customers.

Hawkins: The companies that build parts for these manufacturers are having huge labor shortages, so they’re not able to produce as many parts. So, the lead times have stretched out. I just explain [to customers] that we can give you a quote right now, but it’s not a guaranteed price. The best thing to do is get everything on order and see how the pricing comes out when it gets built. We’re just trying to stay positive with the customers that we can get them a truck; we just can’t guarantee a time or a final price.

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