NTEA’s Bob Johnson: Helping Fleets & Work Truck Suppliers Understand Each Other


Bob, please give us an overview of what the NTEA does and what you are focus­ing on right now.

The pri­ma­ry func­tion and focus of the NTEA is to rep­re­sent the work truck indus­try. This involves all aspects — from the OEMs, truck equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors, down through user fleets and fleet man­age­ment com­pa­nies — in the areas of new vehi­cle pro­duc­tion, man­u­fac­ture, design and acqui­si­tion.

We are not involved in fleet man­age­ment after the fact. Our con­cern is that new vehi­cles are designed to be safe, pro­duc­tive and reg­u­la­to­ry-com­pli­ant. To facil­i­tate these objec­tives, we main­tain a tech­ni­cal ser­vices depart­ment with­in the asso­ci­a­tion which pro­vides our mem­bers with unlim­it­ed tech­ni­cal sup­port in many areas, includ­ing vehi­cle design spec­i­fi­ca­tions and reg­u­la­to­ry com­pli­ance.

What does your role encom­pass?

I serve as the NTEA’s Direc­tor of Fleet Rela­tions, which is basi­cal­ly a liai­son posi­tion between end user fleets, fleet man­age­ment com­pa­nies, and the truck equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors with­in the indus­try. My con­cerns are to help ensure that the vehi­cles fleets pur­chase are what they real­ly need in order to accom­plish their func­tions and to ensure that the end users under­stand the issues fac­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors.

Going the oth­er direc­tion, I try to help the dis­trib­u­tors and truck equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers under­stand what is real­ly impor­tant to fleets. We have found over the years that there is often a dis­con­nect there. Basi­cal­ly, my func­tion is to try to bring the two groups togeth­er.

What are some of the con­cerns that fleets have raised with you?

One of the biggest issues that fleets are fac­ing in today’s envi­ron­ment is how to look at and eval­u­ate sus­tain­able tech­nol­o­gy. The indus­try has lit­er­al­ly seen hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies intro­duced in the last few years. The big issue with fleets is: How can those tech­nolo­gies ben­e­fit me and how can I select the cor­rect tech­nol­o­gy for my appli­ca­tion? We have done a lot of work in that area, pro­vid­ing a means for the end users to under­stand what the dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies are and how they can be imple­ment­ed.

What kind of sup­port do fleets receive from NTEA?

I strong­ly encour­age that if you are involved in the design and spec­i­fi­ca­tion of work trucks, you gain access to all of the NTEA’s ser­vices by join­ing as an Asso­ciate mem­ber. We pro­vide our mem­bers with unlim­it­ed tech­ni­cal sup­port in many areas, includ­ing vehi­cle design and reg­u­la­to­ry com­pli­ance. We have expe­ri­enced engi­neers on our staff whose pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ties are to assist mem­bers in these areas.

In addi­tion, we have two oth­er engi­neers who work out in the field: me and our Man­ag­ing Direc­tor, Doyle Sum­rall. We can also pro­vide assis­tance to our mem­bers to help ensure that their vehi­cles are prop­er­ly designed and spec­i­fied, and to offer some guid­ance as to which tech­nolo­gies they may want to con­sid­er in var­i­ous appli­ca­tions.

Along that line, we have an affil­i­ate divi­sion with­in the NTEA called the Green Truck Asso­ci­a­tion (GTA). The GTA web­site  pro­vides a lot of infor­ma­tion on the var­i­ous green tech­nolo­gies, how to eval­u­ate them and how to deter­mine which ones are best suit­ed for your appli­ca­tions.

What trends are you see­ing in the work truck and green truck indus­tries?

When the truck sus­tain­abil­i­ty move­ment first start­ed, it was hybrids, and then alter­na­tive fuels also entered the pic­ture. Now, we are see­ing a trend where peo­ple are look­ing at all of the dif­fer­ent sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies. Alter­na­tives range from the most sophis­ti­cat­ed hybrid down to some­thing as sim­ple as dri­ver behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and man­agers are look­ing for the mix of tech­nolo­gies that best meets their appli­ca­tion.

The NTEA sup­ports the use of dri­ve and duty cycle analy­sis in con­junc­tion with this process. Basi­cal­ly, you can use dri­ve cycle analy­sis to deter­mine which sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies may poten­tial­ly work for you. Duty cycle analy­sis helps you deter­mine which of those poten­tial tech­nolo­gies will have a real pay­back.

This approach to sus­tain­able tech­nol­o­gy is start­ing to gain a lot of trac­tion. We are work­ing with NREL, the Nation­al Renew­able Ener­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry, to facil­i­tate the use of dri­ve cycle analy­sis. I think it is healthy for the end user indus­try and also for the upfit­ters because, first, it gives the end users a bet­ter pay­back for their sus­tain­able dol­lar invest­ment. Sec­ond, it elim­i­nates dis­ap­point­ment on the part of the end users when they don’t get what they expect­ed. I think this whole trend has tak­en off in the last two years, and I look for­ward to see­ing it grow even more.

What is next on the hori­zon?

The ques­tion of what is com­ing next in the work truck indus­try is some­what dif­fi­cult to address, sim­ply because we are see­ing so many new tech­nolo­gies intro­duced so rapid­ly. Obvi­ous­ly, I see more and more uti­liza­tion of telem­at­ics to include CAN bus inter­face. There is a lot of work being done in the areas of weight reduc­tion, inte­gra­tion of mul­ti­ple sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies and design­ing a more flex­i­ble vehi­cle. I think we are going to see more spe­cial­iza­tion in some ways and less spe­cial­iza­tion in oth­ers.

I think you are going to see vehi­cles designed to be more flex­i­ble, so from that point of view, there will be less spe­cial­iza­tion — but at the same time, you are going to see fleets focus on spe­cif­ic tech­nolo­gies that will work for them, espe­cial­ly in the area of sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

The entire spec­trum of sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies is grow­ing every day, and I think just the way these tech­nolo­gies are imple­ment­ed is going to be the future.


Bob John­son, Direc­tor of Fleet Rela­tions
NTEA – The Asso­ci­a­tion for the Work Truck Indus­try

Bob John­son is direc­tor of fleet rela­tions for the NTEA, a posi­tion he has held since 2006. Pre­vi­ous­ly, he served the NTEA in the same func­tion as a con­sul­tant from 2004–2006. John­son is charged with strength­en­ing the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between fleet end users and the NTEA mem­bers that man­u­fac­ture, dis­trib­ute and install com­mer­cial vehi­cle com­po­nents. In addi­tion, John­son devel­ops fleet man­age­ment con­tent for NTEA pub­li­ca­tions and Web sites.

John­son joined the NTEA with more than 30 years’ expe­ri­ence in util­i­ty fleet and heavy equip­ment design, and most recent­ly served as a nation­al man­ag­er of fleet tech­ni­cal sup­port for Ver­i­zon Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In this posi­tion, his group sup­port­ed a fleet of more than 65,000 vehi­cles in 38 states.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing from Fair­mont State Uni­ver­si­ty (Fair­mont, WV), and an MBA with a spe­cial­iza­tion in gen­er­al man­age­ment from Frost­burg State Uni­ver­si­ty (Frost­burg, MD).


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