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April 16, 2008 12:10 PM, EDT

TMC Chairman Hilton Says Council Will Seek ‘Heavy-Duty’ Service Members

By Dan Leone, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the April 14 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subcribe today.

Brent Hilton, the 2008 chairman of the Technology & Maintenance Council, said one of the focuses of his term will be to increase membership among service dealerships that perform essential “heavy-duty” maintenance for trucking.

“I’m really pushing TMC to get the service dealer more involved in the council,” Hilton told Transport Topics in an interview earlier this month. “I think it would greatly benefit the growth of the council and the industry.”

TMC, a unit of American Trucking Associations, said the service dealer segment is its smallest membership group, representing only 25 of the council’s nearly 2,350 members. The council describes itself as a “technical society” for truck equipment, technology and maintenance professionals, creating recommended engineering and maintenance practices.

Hilton, who became chairman in February at TMC’s 52nd annual meeting, is director of maintenance at Maverick Transportation, Little Rock, Ark. Michael Jeffress is vice president fof maintenance for the flatbed carrier, which has a fleet of 1,500 tractors and 2,200 trailers.

Hilton said while a carrier’s own maintenance shops can handle lighter preventive services, such as oil changes and routine tire maintenance, it is typically more cost-effective for fleets to let outside service dealers handle major engine, transmission, drivetrain or body repairs.

And with the next round of federal engine emission regulations set to take effect in less than 21 months, he said, interaction between trucking and service dealers — companies that provide contract maintenance to fleets — is more critical than ever.

To meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules, engine makers intend to use either exhaust gas recirculation or selective catalytic reduction technology. Each method will present fleets with additional maintenance and performance challenges, Hilton said.

For example, “we’ve got to find and develop ways to do things like distribute urea,” Hilton said, referring to the additive used by SCR systems to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines.

Volvo AB, Paccar Inc. and Daimler Trucks North America all have said they plan to use SCR to meet 2010 regulations.

To ensure a successful transition to this technology in the United States, maintenance planning already needs to be under way, he warned.

“This is an item [truckers and service providers] have got to work together on,” Hilton said.

At TMC, membership is open to the task forces that create and approve the council’s recommended practices.

Hilton said that without cooperation and communication between carriers and service dealers, fleets could find themselves being led through maintenance programs they had no role in shaping.

“It’s nice to be able to approach these issues upfront, to get feedback from everyone [in a TMC task force meeting], rather than have someone come up to you and say, ‘This is how you’re going to do it,’ ” Hilton said.

Since TMC’s annual meeting in February, he said he has reached out to truck manufacturers, whose large networks of service dealers represent an untapped source of expertise for the council.

Hilton said TMC is working to create special incentives to entice more of the dealers to attend the council’s 2009 annual meeting in February.

Carl Kirk, TMC’s executive director, confirmed the council “will be embarking on a major initiative for the 2009 annual meeting to attract dealer members to TMC.”

The council believes it can offer potential service dealer members technical advice on a wide variety of equipment makes and models — not only those from a select group of manufacturers.

“Dealers who must be familiar and technically aware of a multitude of products in today’s market can benefit from what TMC offers,” Kirk said.

For Hilton, building connections between his fleet and its outside service dealers has always been a priority.

“Most of my career I’ve spent building a relationship with the service dealer network,” he said. “It helps you and them, both.”

Part of that belief derives from his ground-level entry into the trucking industry — as a technician.

“Greasing trucks and changing oil is where I first started,” Hilton said. He has been involved in trucking for 25 years, the past 20 years with Maverick.

He joined TMC in 1995, helped craft a number of the group’s recommended engineering and maintenance practices, and guided the development of others.

In 2006, he received the council’s Silver Spark Plug Award, its highest honor. Throughout his time with TMC, he has worked to include service dealers.

One TMC member, Chas Voyles, service manager for the Troy, Ill., branch of Truck Centers, a truck dealership and service center, said he joined three years at Hilton’s urging.

“I see [TMC membership] as a gigantic benefit for Truck Centers,” Voyles told TT. “It gives us a chance to build trust with fleet maintenance people.”

Voyles said joining TMC has been good for business, but he remains surprised at how few of his peers participate.

“When I look at the list of the people that are in the TMC and I go to service dealers, there’s only two or three of us listed,” Voyles said.

Though TMC’s pool of service dealer members remains small, Hilton said the council benefits from their expertise.

Hilton said Kenneth Calhoun, manager of highway products for United Engines, a Little Rock, Ark., parts and service dealer, has been guiding the development of recommended practices to help motor carriers to choose an outside maintenance provider.

The recommended practice “basically gives you a beginning-to-end checklist of what you need to go in and look for when you’re choosing to do business with a certain vendor,” Hilton said.

Calhoun told TT the recommended practice has not yet been completed, but it might be approved before the council’s 2009 spring meeting.

He added that TMC members who have learned about the checklist are already enthusiastic.

“Something really interesting happened during our last task force meeting in Orlando [in February],” Calhoun said. “When we had the motion offered up, seconded and voted to ballot, I had three new members come up afterwards and ask, ‘Can we get this now?’ ”

Also during his yearlong stint as chairman, Hilton said he wants to further increase participation in TMC’s SuperTech Competition, which takes place during the group’s fall meeting. Currently, 116 technician members are eligible to participate.

He said promoting the SuperTech event will bring greater recognition to all truck technicians.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to get more recognition for our technicians around the world,” Hilton said. “They work so hard, and our safety, our families’ safety and our trucks’ reliability out there on the road are in their hands.”