Bill Wade


"Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,"

Bill Wade

ulla ulla“As I crossed the bridge, the sound of ‘Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla’ ceased. It was, as it were, cut off. The silence came like a thunderclap”.

Thus H.G.Wells described escape from London following the invasion of aliens in the classic War of the Worlds, published just over 100 years ago. This same feeling swept over me recently as I exited St.Louis and crossed the Big Muddy. I had just witnessed a similarly devastating attack of alien technology at the NTEA Show ... hybrid and electric vehicle (eV) technology.

Many in the parts and service business have already mentally dismissed concerns about this wave of disruptive tech to the someday file. All I can say is, ‘Shudda been there”.

Had you been, you could have ridden in a hydrogen fuel cell powered class 8 Kenworth, one of the weirdest feelings ever. Quiet, smokeless, quick accelerating, hi-torque. An alien Kwhopper had landed among us. With it were numerous alternate power brethren... CNG, LNG, hydrogen, plug-in battery, hydraulic regen, bio-anything. The aliens have definitely established a beachhead.

My question is this- How soon will it be until life further imitates art?
“A dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians... dead... slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared”

Diffusion of Innovation

A couple years ago, we published a book on the speed with which technical innovation moves through the aftermarket. The keystone study of diffusion of innovations was written by Everett Rogers in 1962. In it, Rogers defined several intrinsic characteristics of innovations that determine the adoption or rejection of an innovation:

  • Relative advantage... how improved an innovation is over the previous generation and for how many different levels of the industry.

  • Compatibility... is the level of disruption that has to be assimilated into potential adaptors’ lives and/or investment base.

  • Complexity... if the innovation is too difficult to use, adoption will lag.

  • Trialability... determines the ease of experimentation for a new solution.

  • Observability... is the extent that an innovation is visible to other potential users.

What part of this doesn’t apply here? Obviously, intra industry communication is critical. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among  peers. Gossip will in turn create more positive or negative reactions.

What to Do Now

This discussion is not intended to be simply an academic approach to a wolf who has not yet found his way to our door. Rather, it should be viewed as an invitation to get ready for the next great opportunity.
These machines will end up in every corner of our customer base ... pickups to line haulers, on-road and off, municipal to private to lease/rental to for hire ... this is neither a fad nor something cooked up by tree huggers. There will be real, non-subsidy based reasons for this wave of new power to arrive with a vengeance.

Independent parts and service providers should take this pre arrival period to get ready. Since the application of these new ideas will show up in hundreds of specific products, it really isn’t a good use of time to get trained on products that may not be the market winner. However, it makes a lot of sense to train up on these underlying technologies:

  • Electrical and electronics. No matter which specific new maintenance problem pops up, this area already represents the fleets’ number one pain point. Diagnostic skills throughout your organization are an absolute necessity. Period.

  • Hydraulics. Hybrids often rely on fairly sophisticated ‘liquid logic’. Now is the time to quit ignoring or sending this work down the street.

  • Materials. Size may not matter, but weight does. Composite trailer panels, hoods and springs, plastic tractors and aluminum all over dictate refresher courses in trouble shooting, fastening and painting.

  • Lubricants and Chemicals. Science in lubrication has accelerated to handle new vehicle needs, as well as to take advantage of ‘greener’ alternative additives. This means that an understanding of an oil’s TBN or OAT coolant limits just don’t cut it anymore.

There is no better time for this investment in your organization. You’ve trimmed it down to the core. Now tone it up.

“‘Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla,’ wailed that superhuman note--great waves of sound sweeping down the broad, sunlit roadway.”

When they arrive, and surly they will, you will be in that enviable position of being the only guy in the room who knows the Heimlich maneuver.

As Appeared in Truck Parts & Service, April 2010 Issue

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