Photo: The group that brainstormed the new Coca-Cola truck, from left to right: Mike Ownbey (Morgan Olson President/COO); Tony Eiermann, Fleet Manager, Asset & Value Management, Coca-Cola Refreshments; Dan Daly, director fleet, Coca-Cola Refreshments, and Ryan Worth, Morgan Olson tech sales rep.
Sometimes, the greatest ideas can come to you when you’re stuck in traffic. And especially, it seems, if you’re one of Coca-Cola Refreshments’ fleet managers.
That’s the situation Tony Eiermann, Fleet Manager, Asset & Value Management, Coca-Cola Refreshments, found himself in—stuck in a traffic jam one day back in 2013— when he had an epiphany of sorts which would eventually bring big changes—and added efficiencies—to the company’s beverage fleet.
Eiermann and his team had been tasked with coming up with a new type of vehicle for the fleet—one that could both lower costs, and be adapted on the fly for a variety of different uses. “We were just trying to find a different avenue because the current piece of equipment we were using—14-bay sidebay tractor-trailers—was just overkill in some situations for the function that it’s serving,” Eiermann says. “They were too big. They were taking out 400 plus cases a day and delivering 150 and that’s just too much. We were given a task by our senior leadership that basically said, ‘Go find a truck that will get them down to 250 cases so they’re not taking all this product for rides every day and find something that you can go non-CDL with so we can hire more drivers.’”
Another goal was to cut down on internal costs by targeting Breakage, Damage and Loss expenses. “With all that product going out we were breaking a fair amount of product,” Eiermann says. “Plus finding a new mechanism for the driver so they’re not as stressed when they’re going on the route. So we wanted to find a truck that’s a little bit easier for them to do their day.”
So, after weeks of pondering different solutions, Eiermann, as luck would have it, found himself stuck in traffic that day in 2013 behind a small work truck. And a light bulb went off. “I saw this truck and was like “Why wouldn’t that design work for Coca-Cola? It has a box shape. It’s similar to just a small trailer so why couldn’t we get that to work?” And we just started going down that road and exploring the option of how we can do that.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast-forward to today and Coke has 62 of what it now calls its “small market trucks” in operation throughout its U.S. system. One was available at this year’s BevOps Fleet Summit Ride and Drive in Las Vegas for attendees to experience first-hand. And the experiment in replacing some of the workhorse side-bay loaders for its vending runs and smaller hot shot routes with the new vehicles is paying off for the company in a variety of ways.
For one thing, the new vehicle is light enough that it doesn’t require a CDL a fact that is a big plus in a time when it’s harder and harder to find truck drivers. “It’s getting difficult to find drivers,” Eiermann says. “Really it’s just the market. There was a large amount of baby boomers who were truck drivers and they’re all retiring.”
Also, the drivers like the design of the new vehicle, which, among its major differences, includes a side-door that gives them a new option when preparing their deliveries. “The side-door allows them to be able to deliver on the curbside,” Eiermann says. “So, if they’re in a tight metro area like New York, Boston, Atlanta, L.A. and they’re in the downtown market they can deliver right out the side door as opposed to trying to open up the rear. It’s probably more convenience than anything because they have that flexibility to be able to go out that side door and it’s convenient to the curb.”
Another plus—especially apparent in a winter like the one the U.S. just experienced—is that they get to work inside the truck. “That’s one of the things that’s coming to light that the new drivers like, is that they get to build their orders in the truck as opposed to doing it out in the elements,” Eiermann says. “They basically shop the truck and they can take it out either the back or the side door. It’s at their disgression.” Egressing through the back door remains an option for bigger loads. “The side door really could be for the five-case drop and the rear door would be for anything a little bit bigger,” he explains.
Additionally, because of the simple box-like design, the truck is extremely versatile. While it will eventually be put in use for more of the hot shot routes, its initial intention has actually been for Coke’s vending operations, and Coke is also looking into testing it for moving coolers.
Also, because the truck runs on diesel it has a longer life cycle—“the power train will hold up a lot longer than gas with the miles that we do,” Eiermann says—and it is all aluminum.
Furthermore, special customized removable carts have been developed for the truck that are an option depending on the needs of the route. “They can be loaded in the warehouse and then put on the truck, or the product can be brought to the truck and loaded while the carts are stationary. And they also help with larger deliveries. They hold 18 to 19 cases and can be rolled right into a facility like a school or a university office building without having to do multiple handcarts,” Eiermann says.
Adds Ryan Worth, Technical Account Manager with Morgan Olson, the company which helped design the truck’s body and the cart system for it, “The carts can be used in a variety of ways. In their simplest form, they are a shelving system that can be scaled to meet the balance of bulk to individual packed material on a daily basis. The next step would be to use them to load and unload the truck at the distributor’s facility. This would be especially helpful for an operation considering staging the next day’s load. Multiple sets of carts for every truck could theoretically keep the truck in operation for three shifts per day. We’ve accomplished this in other markets, but its yet to be attempted in the beverage market where the needs might not be the same. Store delivery with the carts has not been attempted yet, but there is nothing about the design that prevents such activity from happening.”
Ergonomically, the drivers like that they don’t have to, as Eiermann puts it, “jump all over a side-loader truck to pull the products down. With the carts, everything’s pretty much at a reasonable level. It’s a lot easier than having to climb around a beverage truck—reach into those bays, or have product over their head that can potentially fall on them, or they stretch their back. This is like shopping in a little store.”
Points out Worth, “The key to this truck is the reduction in lifting and climbing. The load in this truck can all be accessed from floor level and the majority of the load is placed at an ergonomically friendly height. The lift gate on the rear allows the driver to safely lower the load from the truck. The driver also sits at a higher position so ingress and egress from the driving position leads to less hip, knee, and back wear.”
Like all innovations, coming up with the small market truck was a group effort and took some trial and error. Eiermann recalls being in the Morgan Olson booth at the Work Truck Show and literally sketching the design for the new vehicle out on a napkin. “We were sitting with Morgan and literally drawing ideas up on napkins on the back of a tailgate of one of their demo trucks,” he says. “Just talking through ideas of what we want to see and what we don’t want to see, what we kind of want to see. And it ended up being basically just a napkin of ink marks but we knew exactly what we were talking about by that point.”
“It really just took a team of people willing to accept that the status-quo may not be the best answer in a rapidly changing market,” says Worth, of Morgan Olson. “The beverage industry has invested decades making the side-bay design the best it can be, and countless processes, support devices, and facilities have been constructed around that basic design. Deciding to move in a new direction is not just a vehicular challenge, it also involves operations, safety, driver training, and facilities engineering.”
Continues Worth, “The side loaders are exceptional at primary tasks from our standpoint: They hold a very large quantity for the size of the body. Every inch of the body is used to store product; Loading the trucks with bulk product is very efficient. Pallets of bulk product can be loaded by a forklift in minutes. Traditional routes that still deliver large amounts of the same sku to one location can still benefit from this platform. It’s by no means an obsolete design, nor do we have any illusions about taking over the beverage market. Our product is a custom design that works in applications where the side-loader or a standard dry van just aren’t the best application, or where the need may change over time.”
The new truck uses Freightliner custom chassis like similar trucks on the market.