Volvo drives truckers online to customize their own rigs

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Volvo Trucks North America is out to prove the Web's potential to reach customers wherever and whenever they want.

The Greensboro, N.C., company built a World Wide Web site late last year for independent truckers, a highly mobile target. The site allows truck drivers to customize and purchase a $120,000 Volvo cab online.

The site -- built in-house for about $15,000 -- is averaging about 17,777 page views per day, says Jim Lesinski, director of marketing communications and research, Volvo Trucks.

Print introduction

Volvo introduced the Web site in print ads that ran in industry magazines Overdrive and Trucker's News.

The company, says Mr. Lesinski, considers the site an important tool for building its new 770 series brand.

Research conducted by Truckers News concluded that more than 55% of today's truckers own a PC and more than 35% go online each day.

Further evidence came when Volvo Trucks directed its own research and found that truck drivers would rather surf the Net than attend a trade show, Mr. Lesinski says.

The 770 model is the only model currently available online because it's the one that most appeals to independent contractors, Mr. Lesinski says.

By targeting independents, Volvo dealers can more easily keep track of orders all the way through the sales process because they're following one lead per order rather than 10 or more for the larger truck companies. Volvo may add models that appeal to the larger truck companies in the future as its dealers become more experienced using the site, he adds.

Mark Peabody, research analyst for the Aberdeen Group, Boston, says the site is an important step forward for Volvo.

"It's a great move for being a point of sales Web site. Now they [truck drivers] can actually walk away from the site knowing they can get this truck if they want it. Not to mention the amount of information Volvo is generating out there."

E-mail promotions

Volvo asks every user who views the site to give his or her e-mail address so it can send special promotions "as extra incentive to visit the site," Mr. Lesinski says.

The site, says Director of Business Planning Susan Alt, is fast and easy for even first-time Internet users.

First, the user customizes the cab's color, wheel base, interior trim, engine and transmission. Then, users fill out a short credit application that is evaluated by Volvo Truck Finance North America within 24 hours.

To learn whether an application has been approved, the user must enter a password. If financing is approved, the user may secure the order by using a credit card to make a $500 down payment. Or, the list of equipment options can be printed and taken to a participating Volvo truck dealer to place the order in person.

The cabs, equipped with sleeping accommodations for two, a PC work station, an entertainment center and a kitchen sink, are delivered and ready for pickup at the dealer in about eight weeks, Mr. Lesinski says.

So far, about 150 Volvo Truck dealers in the United States and Canada have signed up to be linked to the site. It costs each dealer $200 to join.

Volvo uses visitors' ZIP codes to match them up with the nearest dealer. Once the dealer is handed the customer, "the dealer is responsible for tracking the order all the way through," Mr. Lesinski says.

Good for sales force

The site, according to Mr. Peabody, may not guarantee sales right away, but "it's [the site] to equip their sales force with as much user information as possible, so they can go to these qualified sales leads and really hard-sell these people," he says.

Mr. Lesinski agreed, saying Volvo doesn't expect to "overturn thousands of dollars in profits, but we do expect it to generate interest in the product and company, so they're [truckers] better informed when they get to the dealerships."

Volvo has so far received 70 applications for financing.

Competitors Freightliner Corp., Sterling Truck Corp., Mack Trucks, Peterbilt, Navistar International Transportation Corp. and Kenworth Truck Co. all have Web sites, but only Volvo's site has purchasing capability.

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