Inside a trailer’s high-tech horseshoe

From the April 2015 issue.

The fifth wheel coupling is often neglected when the focus is on component innovation, even though it can make all the difference between a successful delivery and a fatal accident.

As fifth wheels are vital safety components, their development is slow, steady and deeply considered – but that doesn’t mean they are not subject to continuous research and development. Global Trailer had the opportunity to meet Wendy Cowan, Jason Howe and Rob Nissen, the team responsible for driving SAF-Holland’s fifth wheel program forward.

As the company’s Director for Product Planning and Market Development, listening to the market and predicting future demand is part of Wendy Cowan’s professional DNA. Jason Howe, meanwhile, is helming the engineering team tasked with translating her input into technical progress. Finally, Rob Nissen’s role as Director Field Sales is to ensure every product will perform consistently in the field.

Q: The fifth wheel coupling market is not necessarily one searching for the limelight. Did the growing competition from Asia influence that low perception at all?
Wendy Cowan: No, it’s still a quiet achiever for most people out there. I think fifth wheels are somewhat taken for granted because of their excellent safety record. All of the major global suppliers have rigorous testing requirements in place, so fifth wheel failure is a rare occurrence today.

Q: In that context, how do you make sure a product is perceived as a stand-alone one that is different from the competition and potentially more effective?
Jason Howe: By adding value. Ironically, the growing pressure from low-cost producers has actually pushed industry leaders to increase the value of their products. We are now even more focused on understanding what kind of features fleets value and providing a complete line of fifth wheels that surpass their expectations in terms of performance and lowest cost of ownership. More than ever, we lean on our experience, expertise, relationships and reputation to reinforce the differentiation from low-cost producers.
Wendy Cowan: One example is that SAF-Holland offers performance guarantees for over-the-road fifth wheels, which means there are no rebuild costs for up to six years – should a rebuild even be required. We also offer the longest materials and workmanship warranty – again, six years – on our Holland FW35 fifth wheel. Weight is always a concern on a truck, and Holland offers four of the seven lightest fifth wheels in the market, including the world’s lightest, the FWAL forged aluminium fifth wheel. Those are just a few examples of where we add value.

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