Falling into a statistical rabbit hole

I grew up an unabashed numbers geek. Math was easy, and fun, most of the time, and as I grew up it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend chunks of my spare time pouring over numbers and data.

And by data, I mean the backs of baseball cards.

I’d spend hours flipping through cards, looking at the agate text (that’s journalist jargon for the box scores) in my local newspaper. I’d pick up information just because it was there.

There was a time in my youth that when asked, I could recite the top ten players in nearly every MLB statistical category in real time. And in the pre-Internet and pre-cable TV era, this was an impressive yet ultimately I realize now unnecessary skill.

As I got older this thirst for numbers expanded. At 12 I was balancing my own checkbook (Of course the numbers geek had a checkbook). By 14 I was a two-term treasurer of my local 4-H club. In high school I participated in a record keeping contest. Made it all the way to the District Finals, too.

I don’t spend as much time reading baseball cards as I used to, but I still love numbers.

And as I mentioned in this space just last month, when I find trucking stats that catch my eye I fall just as quickly back into the rabbit hole as I did when I was a kid.

This happened to me recently with a number I pulled from MacKay & Company at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue (HDAD).

According to John Blodgett, vice president of sales and marketing at MacKay & Company (and our newest Truck Parts & Service columnist), the average total maintenance cost to own a Class 8 truck for 15 years was $345,000 in 2015.

When I heard that in January I was floored. I simply could not believe it.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t trust John’s data, I was just taken aback by how much maintenance expenses have exploded in recent times.

MacKay & Company data shows vehicle owners today are now spending an average of $20,600 per truck per year in maintenance expenses. That breaks down to $7,200 for parts, $2,900 for tires, $600 for lubrication and nearly ten grand ($9,900) for service and labor.

And that doesn’t include driver wages or fuel expenses.

Even with the data that’s borderline unbelievable.

But it checks out. Not long after John dropped the $345,000 bombshell at HDAD Lee Long, director of fleet services at Southeastern Freight Lines, said his fleet is now spending more money each year maintaining emission systems than it spends on tires.

That’s incredible. Ten years ago most trucks didn’t even have advanced emission systems, and now they’re nearly the most expensive systems on a truck.

And you just know that’s going to get worse. John’s presentation at HDAD showed the most expensive ownership years for Class 8 trucks today are years 7-9. That isn’t surprising — that’s the sweet spot for the aftermarket — but what’s crazy is right now years 4-6 are significantly more expensive than years 10-12, and beyond.

That’s because of these emission systems. The decade-old trucks don’t have them. The cost to own a truck for 10 years or more is about to skyrocket.

And as I pull myself back out of the rabbit hole I can’t help but wonder, how high can it go? At what point will expenses start driving people out of our industry?

The parts and service market clearly isn’t going anywhere. But who you serve, I think that’s about to change dramatically.

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