Possibilities in autonomous upfitting

By Nathan Gibson, Generation Next Governor at Large
Canfield Equipment Service Inc.

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Generation Next Edition.

It’s an interesting time to be in the automotive upfitting business.  The OEM goal of self-driving vehicles should have a very profound impact on society, and for our part, the work truck industry.  This article represents an extreme perspective on potential outcomes should these technologies come to pass.

Imagine waking up, getting ready for the day, and setting off on your morning commute in a car that has no steering wheel.  Our government is on top of road maintenance, so there are no potholes. Since there’s no need to pay attention to the road, you decide to multitask and shave/apply lipstick.  As a matter of fact, you find that on your 30-minute commute, you have nothing but time on your hands. If I were in this position, it’s easy for me to predict I would spend a lot of time on my smartphone during my commute.

Now imagine being an HVAC contractor or technician in an autonomous vehicle who also has nothing to do while traveling between job sites. This is the space that the work truck industry will need to fill in.

The obvious solution is to make the technician productive so that the time isn’t wasted. This will mean making the vehicle internet-capable and including a computer to fill out work orders, order new inventory, update company software with job completion information, and so on. In turn, technicians might be more comfortable in a furnished vehicle (anyone reading this an IKEA distributor?). I’d argue that this level of comfort and productivity would be best maximized in a mobile office, which would favor large van purchases over pickup trucks. Light-weighting of this equipment will also become a factor as fleets try to maximize their electric vehicle range. 

Another technology in the wings is drone delivery technology. If parcels could be delivered by drone to your doorstep, the impact for work trucks would be similarly applied. This same HVAC technician wouldn’t need to carry inventory in their vehicle. Instead, they would arrive at your house, see that you need <widget X> to fix your furnace, and use an app to arrange a drone make a delivery from their warehouse to your home. This is one use for drones I could imagine. It probably wouldn’t be feasible to deliver a whole new furnace by drone (terror in the skies). This “new construction” side is the space the work truck industry will need to focus on. 

Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that manufacturers and distributors in this industry provide and create tools to help technicians become more efficient and productive at their jobs. The need to move mounds of dirt using a dump body wouldn’t be changed by the fact that the vehicle drives itself. A self-driving plow truck truly would be a different world.