Priorities and achievements belie the mind of the reader

Sometimes I get totally bored by cars, trucks and construction equipment. The magazines often regurgitate the same stuff and a month or three off the trade press can be quite refreshing. Nothing is going to change that much. Nothing is going to be reported just once and if it is really important it will be reported, dissected, criticised etc. to the point where sometimes I want to scream. Keep up to date with Car Magazine and Construction News and you will see what I mean. In fact, quite frequently I have been told when at home to stop arguing with the radio or television because it cannot answer back. Yeah! And sometimes I cannot stop its frequently biased banter! But back to the trade news proper. Being an avid reader of newspapers and New Scientist all the really tasty bits appear there in condensed form even though, sadly, they are usually written by a spare journalist who has been given the job of writing a specific article. Whether they know one end of a diesel engine from the other, whether they think that Adblue is for raunchy advertising or a Euro 6 is a round in the Eurovision song contest is irrelevant. They plough in.

Sometimes non-trade articles are written by what I think are called stringers. People that write articles on anything and just keep up a regular supply of “informed” verbiage to several publications at a time. A classic example of this the following story and, later, an article written by an American journalist.

I was hanging around Detroit in the US at the time and remember that there was a splendid lady, a senior manager in Product Planning in the Ford Design Studio in Dearborn. Her metier was door casings for cars, vans and trucks. Nobody knew more about door casings than she. She could turn the description of a quadruple fabric cascade of matching colour shades running from the top of the door belt rail, down through the handle aperture and on to the glove pocket then curling round the base of the door into a story worthy of a film. The enthusiasm, the use of descriptive language that painted pictures in the air, her immaculate haute couture presence more Christian Dior than Vivienne Westwood and that perfect hair and make-up – it all held the assembled company in thrall. She was going to get her message across come what may. It started as she entered the studio with a ricochet tat tat from her heels that were de riguer to command the attention of the room, a room full of men and where the shortest, me, was only a miserable 6’ tall. She had a sidekick, a clone of herself, a girl aged early 20s who carried her files, ran messages and who spoke to all assembled before the great entrance by her boss. She was the warm up act and was in awe of her boss and it showed. It showed her what a woman could do in a man’s world and she was determined to do the same. Aggression – a “you aint seen nothing yet” type of attitude.

And now for the back story. A lady journalist was given the job of interviewing this female power house. Did she write about her rise to fame through the ranks, her months spent studying plastics and fabrics and doing Florida tests for fade and abrasion tests for durability, doing clinics for market sector acceptance etc? Nah. She wrote about how this woman got up at 4.30/5.00 every morning and immediately went into her exercise regime under the whip of her personal trainer. Her half hour of yoga and meditation followed by her macro biotic diet of a breakfast. She reported how a hair stylist was wheeled in every other day. Professional make up advice and a personal shopper and colourist ensured that she was up with but not in advance of business fashion, how her clothes were finely tailored and carefully assembled so that co-workers (awful word) did not feel that she was wearing the same outfit twice. This woman was going to succeed even if it took 30/40% of everything she earned. And the lady journalist on the story was going to make sure that she was held up as a beacon of commercial success to every woman who read the article. I am already on very thin ice here so maybe it is better that I do not go on.

So now think of the horny handed engineer who has worked out how to adhere a complete car body shell together with superglue and thus saved the planet all the power required to do 200 spot welds. He will get a “well done Charlie, you can keep your job” accolade but also a “but do not expect to be promoted because you are too useful where you are” message loud and clear. “You just know too much about body assembly for us to risk losing you Charlie”. Oh, “have a small bonus to keep you going”. And this is all it takes to ensure the continued application of the man’s nose to the grindstone.
Men and women. They are so different, so very different; we have no option but to try and understand each other as we try to get along together. Maybe that is why the population is roughly 50/50 and not 80/20. See Fishers Principle. Possibly that could be a musing for another day!

Hector Armstrong

The Commercial Vehicle Show

After a lifetime in the truck and construction industry a visit to a trade exhibition brings all manner of memories and opinions flooding back.  To see stands for products that were once a personal responsibility has its emotional side but those products are now different, the people are different and the bigwigs now are barely recognisable as the reps and marketing assistants that were remembered 10/20/30 years ago.  It is always a pleasure to be recognised and invited to sit and take tea and chat awhile.  Frequently the deference still appears in a small way but those were the old days.  The trick is to get off the stand quickly whilst the pleasure of being greeted lasts but not forgetting appropriate compliments on the stand layout, the exhibits and, of course, to the individual that has greeted and entertained one and his/her achievements in their career.  I always felt proud to see people that I had picked for lower jobs achieve greater things later in life.  Proves I got some things right! Have a wander through the 2014 Truck Show and see who was there www.cvshow.com

Now for the other side of the coin.  The major companies, certainly in the truck world, have been through all manner of amalgamations and developments with many marques sadly no more.  Is this good for development? It might be commercially sound but to look at vehicle marques and particularly major components that are “shared” between many models it has somewhat taken the individuality or quirkiness out of things.  I am sure that fuel saving developments, the reduced cost of engineering by increasing the volume base of vehicles/components is sound economics but where is the quantum leap going to come from?  With new technologies and designs, sometimes inhibited by current legislation, aimed at supporting high volume and its consequent high investment in production facilities.  For example, where is the DS19 of panel vans?  Where is the van that halves fuel consumption that doubles for a van, chassis with body, has extended vehicle life, adequate performance and is completely emissions free? Only legislation will make it happen now.  Not some brilliant engineer on a mission. Quality products are certainly engineered and made but could we go further. Some of the best products are still shared – www.mercedes-benz.co.uk/vans

Which brings me on to the bodywork, accessories, services all sold to vehicle operators.  The accessories hall, for want of a word, is always of more interest to anyone with an engineering bent.  Commercial vehicles carry loads that sometimes require sophisticated packing and restraining on vehicles.  The bodywork is already governed by a plethora of European legislation but sometimes the little extras to cover ease and safety of loading and load restraint are left to unqualified individuals driven by price more than legal requirement or exposure to subsequent risk.  With the evolution of VOSA into the Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency DVSA (www.gov.uk/VOSA) in April this year that aspect of life might be tightened up in the future but it is still a minefield that suffers from conflicting interpretations.  Consistency of legislation, good design and good training must become a mainstay in this industry.

What really surprised me, brilliant as they are, is the current emphasis on security from vehicle tracking systems to camera systems designed to protect drivers and operators from spurious claims in accidents (see www.garmin.com/uk/solutions) and all that paraphernalia designed to turn the driver into an automaton to save .01 % of fuel or to take him to task for a missed gear change (if that is possible in a modern auto box). Once again it all helps the bottom line (see www.renault-trucks.co.uk and its Optifuel and Optifleet programs)  However, I do admit to feeling a little sorry for modern day drivers whose thoughts are less on the road but more on their load drop ratios and driving performance.

Until another day.

Hector Armstrong