Volvo Blue takes contract maintenance to the next level, incorporating best practices from dealers like Alabama’s Nextran to keep fleets in top condition. It improves efficiency, lowers maintenance costs, and reduces unplanned downtime.

The setting is central Alabama. This is home to rabid football fans, mouthwatering barbecue, and some of the most innovative fleets in North America. That last fact may be surprising, but for the last few years Volvo Trucks has provided preventive maintenance contracts on more vehicles here than any other state or province. It’s become a testing ground where the delivery of preventive maintenance has been finely tuned and fleets here are calling the contracts a game-changer for their businesses.

Now the lessons learned regionally in Alabama are rolling out nationally in the form of Volvo Blue, the industry’s best-in-class maintenance contract.

Ready for launch

Introduced in early 2023, Volvo Blue, marries the most comprehensive covered list of parts and services with the advanced, over-the-air diagnostic and operational software that comes standard on every new Volvo truck. It’s a concept that Sam Ellis, Volvo Trucks product manager, calls “proactive maintenance.”

“Instead of reacting to maintenance or other issues, we proactively address them,” Ellis says. “With Volvo Blue, you have a Fleet Manager at the dealership reaching out to schedule maintenance weeks before you need it. So, it's not something that pops up on the road and you have to figure out how to deal with it.”

" With Volvo Blue, you have a manager at the dealership reaching out to schedule maintenance weeks before you need it."

The entire goal of the program, Ellis explains, is to eliminate unplanned downtime for Volvo’s customers, whether large fleets or owner-operators. “The last thing the owner, the driver, their customer, the dealer, or we want to see is a truck down. We are all working for the same goal. With Volvo Blue, you get all of the maintenance that’s required, not simply oil and filter changes.”

Proactive, Adaptive Maintenance

Every Volvo truck is equipped with a suite of fully-connected sensors that monitor the truck’s operating performance, including idle time, mileage, fuel economy, engine speed, load, topography, and more.

These allow the dealership to monitor the vehicle’s performance in near real time and to customize each truck’s service based on how the truck is being used.

“With Volvo Blue, there’s no fixed number of service events, so the truck owner pays the same cost even if more services are needed, as long as the conditions of use remain the same,” Ellis adds.

At each service, trained Volvo technicians use genuine Volvo parts and perform a rigorous, 74-point inspection. They also have access to special tools and advanced instrumentation to diagnose and remedy any problems they find.

Innovation at the dealership

Steve Dupuis is General Manager at Nextran in Fultondale, Alabama, the Volvo Truck dealership just outside of Birmingham. “Our goal is to elevate our conversations beyond just buying a truck to helping the customer’s business,” he explains. “If you're selling trucks just to make commission, you're in the wrong job.”

This commitment to the customer led Nextran to become a leader in proactive maintenance. The company hired a fleet support position to help its customers plan their downtime and maintenance. "It quickly became clear that if we were going to truly add value, we needed to take over scheduling and just handle everything. The strength of the Volvo maintenance offering makes it easy to deliver on the promises we are making,” Dupuis says.

Nextran sales manager Tim Tucker was an early advocate for maintenance contracts, “What I think our customers love about it is they're taking advantage of their warranty, and they're also taking advantage of our skill set with our trained technicians. We're using Volvo proprietary parts. We're not skimping in any way. And we're doing all the little things that add up to a truck hopefully just needing planned downtime.”

Because the maintenance plan is fully prepaid, Tucker says it insulates his customers from inflation, “Knowing that they're not going to be saddled by some of this inflation in the future helps them bid long term, dedicated runs that everybody really needs.”

In Alabama, Nextran is not only planning and scheduling service, but it’s begun placing its own service techs on location with some of its customers. This innovative arrangement is not standard in the Blue plan, but when paired with the strength and dependability of a Volvo maintenance contract, it has become a winning combination for dealer and customer.

“Our dealership shop is swamped,” says Dupuis. “So is every dealership in the country. We’ve got three to four weeks of work backed up. This allows us to serve our customers better and take pressure off the dealership shop.

“Volvo Blue organizes and takes the concept of contracted, proactive maintenance to the next level. It’s so seamless that techs are addressing issues and getting trucks back online before our customers even knew there was a problem,” Dupuis adds. “We didn’t set out to become trailblazers. We just focused on doing what’s best for our customers, allowing them to move freight and take care of their customers.”

"We didn’t set out to become trailblazers. We just focused on doing what’s best for our customers, allowing them to move freight and take care of their customers."

Contract Convert

With nearly 50 years in trucking, Jeff McGrady, CEO of Heritage Freight, Warehousing and Logistics in Sylacauga, Ala., never thought that he would hand fleet maintenance over to his dealer. Shuttling trucks to dealerships for warranty work led him to reconsider. He says he researched larger transportation companies and realized that many were on maintenance plans. “Bigger fleets wouldn’t have maintenance contracts if it weren’t good for their business. So, we decided to try it and have been extremely pleased with that decision since day one. I’d never go back.”

"We decided to try it (Volvo maintenance contracts) and have been extremely pleased with that decision since day one. I’d never go back."

“We get more consistency in our maintenance as well. For example, we were not great about running overheads [valve train adjustments]. Now I have drivers coming in saying that after he ran my overhead my mileage jumped four-tenths of a mile per gallon and my truck is just performing so much better,” says McGrady.

“Having a prepaid maintenance plan was a monumental shift in thinking for us,” says Casey Graham, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Heritage. The shift in thinking started when Nextran began to focus conversations on how they could help Heritage solve its business challenges.

“We actually had never done maintenance plans before. Obviously, we got warranties, but we'd always performed all of our own maintenance. We were skeptical initially, but quickly it became clear that this makes sense. Our maintenance cost is way down and our efficiencies are up.”

McGrady and Tucker report that the maintenance plans have provided a host of unexpected benefits, from improved driver satisfaction and higher resale values, to the availability of third-party maintenance records in case of litigation.

Less Downtime for Just-In-Time

White Oak Transportation, Inc., out of Decatur, Ala., focuses on just-in-time, dedicated freight. “It’s very, very time sensitive,” explains CEO Mike Limbaugh. “So, our decision to have a Volvo PM contract with Nextran started with a conversation about downtime and maintenance.”

White Oak has contracted maintenance with Nextran for more than five years. “Every vehicle we have is under a maintenance plan now,” he adds. “I can’t say enough good about it really.”

" Every vehicle we have is under a maintenance plan now. I can’t say enough good about it really"

For White Oak, the partnership has across-the-board benefits, including less unplanned downtime, more predictability, and cost stability. “We’ve seen savings in overall maintenance costs, but most important is the ability to predict our monthly cost. At one time, we also kept trucks around just for downtime. We have much less of that now,” Limbaugh says.

It’s not always easy to take the plunge though, according to Stan Mitchell, White Oak’s Director of Maintenance. “Fleets are run lean by design. To be successful you need to trim as much cost out of operations as you can, so it took us some time to evaluate contracted maintenance. After lots of number crunching, we took a leap of faith, and it’s the best thing we ever did.”

Prepaid service plans take pressure off drivers, dispatchers, and maintenance crews by providing a structured timetable that keeps things from falling through the cracks. “The team at Volvo has carefully designed these service intervals to replace items before they go bad. If you wait too long or never change them, they will break, it’s just a question of when. It’s a lot easier to handle these things in the shop instead of on the side of the road.

Limbaugh says that their maintenance plan allows them to focus on things they do well like delivery freight, “Plans like Volvo Blue allow us to get away from the mechanic side of our business because we are not good at it, but they are.”

“At the end of the day, fleets are going to be paying for maintenance services whether prepaid or as-you-go,” according to Mitchell. “If you don’t have a maintenance plan, you are choosing to operate your business in a crisis management mode, and we’ve been able to get away from that here.”


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