International Truck Market Has Its Own Challenges

When Gerling & Associates first started building for the European market, I assumed that once we had all the road regulations down, it was basically the same work challenge as custom building any major project for our North American customers. I was soon to learn just how wrong I was. After delivering more than 18 expanding side production trailers in Europe alone, I have learned that we are dealing with different philosophies, concepts and business plans.

Years ago, the U.S. networks elected to eliminate all their rolling stock. Decisions were made on the highest order to contract out the need for remote production facilities. Companies like National Mobile Television and Game Creek Video began to compete for contracts, win those contracts and expand their fleets.

Today, these companies have grown to own huge fleets of mobile facilities that must be managed both technically and financially. As all things go, the financial part of the equation mandated that any investment for a huge mobile facility must be recovered in both a timely manner and on budget. That means that the huge trailers Gerling builds for the U.S. market must be able to turn up to three or sometimes four events per week.

The concept is almost completely different in Europe. Until just the last few years, fleets of mobile production facilities were owned and/or managed by government-owned networks. Mobile facilities and crews enjoyed the luxury of adequate funding and a leisurely one or two events every two weeks.

That mindset now seems to be changing just a bit with the emergence over the last five years of private European remote production companies, somewhat like those here domestically. Known as outside broadcast companies (everything having to do with mobile production is referred to as “OB”), these private companies still retain some of the previously established requirements.

What does all this mean for the OB vehicle manufacturer? For example, in Europe and Asia, the exterior skin must include an automotive look. No rivets, no seams, no visible fasteners. In the United States, weight restrictions mandate light side skin and construction, which is why rivets and .055 seamed side skins are common. In Europe, on the other hand, you can build in that great exterior look, as they enjoy at least a 10,000-pound advantage in higher weight limits.

Also in France, you had better be able to push a button and admire the expanding side slowly creeping out with a hydraulic drive system. When setting up for a college basketball game on a Wednesday afternoon in Indiana, speed is required, especially if the trailer is delayed due to an ice storm on I-70 in Missouri. Doesn’t happen in Europe; there is plenty of time, as facilities there always have a couple of days to set up.

Then there is the issue of attitude. When we get a domestic client here for engineering, he has traveled a few short hours, so he’s fresh and ready for the business of engineering. Now get ready for the engineer who has been forced to travel for 23 hours and clear U.S. customs. By the time we sit down, he is tired and probably just does not want to be there. It’s an added degree of difficulty to do business with a whole ocean between where the production trailer will make money and where it is built.

So, why would a European customer come to Sunbury, OH, for such a complex mobile project? For the same reason our domestic customer comes to Sunbury—it’s a good business decision. Cost, delivery timeframe and quality are still the core factors.

A good manufacturer of mobile production facilities in Great Britain that I personally admire takes nine months to build a double expanding side production trailer. It takes us 130 days. Plus, throw in currency conversion and European customers can get their unit for about 40 percent less.

So how about the future globally? As the international markets observe the diversity of programming and outlets for that programming proliferate here in the United States, we see the blending of our remote television business concepts into the international concept working out quite nicely.

Fred Gerling is founder and president of Gerling & Associates.