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Volvo responds to Land Line article
In our March issue, we featured complaints from owners of Volvo trucks relating to premature steer tire wear. Bill Dawson, Volvo's vice president in charge of customer service, responded on March 22 by sending the following letter to OOIDA President Jim Johnston.

Dear Jim,

We feel it is necessary to respond to an article which appeared in the March 2000 issue of OOIDA's publication, Land Lines. The article indicated that after polling your members who own Volvo trucks, approximately fifty had responded with complaints primarily relating to front end vibrations and premature wear on steer axle tires.

As you are well aware, wheel alignment is an industry-wide issue and is not limited to Volvo trucks. There is widespread misunderstanding of proper wheel alignment methods, the recommended frequency of wheel alignment checks, proper tire pressure and related issues.

This issue is so prevalent the Truck Maintenance Council ("TMC") has developed a recommended practice (RP642) dealing with tire wear issues. This recommended practice has been under development for quite some time and is now in the final approval stages before it is issued. This recommended practice was developed by people from all parts of the trucking industry including chassis and tire manufacturers, fleet operators, independent service centers and independent owner-operators. In fact, a technical representative of OOIDA has been a respected member of the TMC for many years and was fully aware of the work being done by that organization to address this industry-wide concern.

It seems odd that OOIDA is focusing on one manufacturer when they know these issues are industry-wide. In fact, the OOIDA technical representative had scheduled a dinner meeting during the TMC general meeting with Volvo representatives to discuss tire wear issues as raised by OOIDA officers. When they got together, the OOIDA representative said he did not want to discuss them. What changed his mind?

What is further puzzling is why as OOIDA's president, and your lawyer, Paul Cullen, who had earlier been given a copy of the Recommended Practice, have failed to bring RP642 to the attention of OOIDA members. Rather than focus an attack on a single manufacturer without offering a solution, shouldn't OOIDA's officers be trying to help out its members by getting to them the latest information thereby allowing them to be more profitable as a result of reduced tire wear and other related issues?

The article states there were over fifty complaints. However, only twenty-six members initially gave you permission to share this information with Volvo. It took you nearly three months to get permission from an additional ten members. We have reviewed these complaints and have interviewed those members that we have been able to contact.

The survey shows the overwhelming issue is inadequate and/or improper wheel alignment and balancing. It is clear your membership could benefit from being advised of TMC Recommended Practice RP642.

Many of the complaints reported by you relate to trucks that are six and seven years old with over 500,000 miles, or were purchased used with an unknown maintenance history. Many of the complaints make no mention of tire wear. Many of your members describe symptoms, which are clearly the result of the lack of proper tire balancing.

Your article implies that Volvo has not done anything to address OOIDA members' concerns. Our dealers and field personnel meet daily with owners of Volvo trucks in an attempt to resolve their product issues. In fact, in a recent Louis Harris & Associates customer survey, Volvo trucks were rated as significantly superior to similar products offered by other truck manufacturers.

Particularly interesting is that many of your members who made complaints reported to us they are looking to buy a new Volvo truck or are satisfied with the one they own. In fact, one of the members that you specifically mentioned in your article said to the interviewer they were interested in buying a new Volvo VN.

Your recent article is not only inaccurate, it is misleading, defamatory, and appears to have been published in bad faith, without reasonable grounds to believe that the information contained therein was true. We demand that you print this letter, in its entirety, in the next issue of Land Lines as well as print a retraction of the statements made in the March 2000 issue within ten days of receipt of this correspondence.

Yours truly,
Bill Dawson
Vice President, Customer Service
Volvo Trucks North America

 

Dear Mr. Dawson,

In response to your letter of March 22, please be advised that we stand by the referenced article. Furthermore, we will not be printing a retraction as demanded in your letter. You should also be aware that threatening letters will not resolve our members' problems with their Volvo trucks, nor will they lessen our resolve to help address those problems.

You suggest in your letter that "Wheel alignment is an industry-wide issue not confined to Volvo trucks." That, "It seems odd that OOIDA is focusing on one manufacturer, when they know these issues are industry-wide." I agree that proper wheel alignment is an important maintenance item. However, as to whether or not it is an industry-wide problem of the magnitude you describe, I must advise that we have received no similar complaints on other truck manufacturers.

I can think of only two reasons why we would not be receiving similar complaints on trucks other than Volvo's. Either those problems are not occurring to the same degree they are with Volvo, or when they do occur, they are being corrected efficiently and to the satisfaction of our members by the other truck manufacturers. You can be certain that if, in fact, we were receiving similar complaints on other trucks, they would have received the same attention in the article as Volvo.

You also suggest in your letter that, "Rather than focus an attack on a single manufacturer, OOIDA should be providing its members with the (not yet issued) Truck Maintenance Council Recommended Practice (RP642), dealing with tire wear issues." We will certainly be getting that information out to our members, because as you mention, TMC does an excellent job of putting together improved maintenance practice recommendations. More to the point of this discussion though, perhaps it would be even more beneficial for Volvo to provide this information to its dealers, because as noted in many of the complaints, repeated visits to Volvo dealers resulted in no solution to the problems.

For example, the complaint of Paul and Sandy Bruinix, who complained that after 60,000 miles vibration started in the front-end. They went to the dealer in Defiance, Ohio and were told nothing was wrong. Or Paula and Dave Siebert, who were experiencing premature tire wear and took the truck to the Volvo dealer in Sikeston, Missouri and were told that it checked out okay. Or Fred and Laura Hogatt, who wore out the first set of steer tires at 60,000 miles. They were told by the Volvo dealer that there were a lot of problems with Michelin Tires, but it wouldn't be worth it to go to Michelin, because Michelin would just blame it on the truck. An alignment by the dealer showed no problems. They are now on their third set of steer tires at 194,000 miles. A recent visit to the dealer elicited the comment that he knows of a company that he uses to bend the axles and this would solve the problem. But don't do it now, because it voids the warranty.

Then there was Robert Hudgins, who was told by the Volvo dealer in Abilene, Texas that most Volvo front-ends only lasted 350,000 miles. And Jan Getek who now is at 132,000 miles and already on the third set of steer tires. Jan reports, "Always had a three axle alignment at Volvo dealer each time tires were replaced." Dale Patterson who experienced tire cupping within six months of purchasing his new truck. Dale was told by Great Southern Truck Sales, the Volvo dealer in Jackson, Mississippi that it was an alignment problem, but it was only done under warranty for the first 90 days. New tires and alignment seemed to solve the problem until recently.

I could go on with many more examples, but by now you should get the point. Our members are not design engineers and they don't operate alignment shops. They rely on your engineers to design and build quality trucks, and on your dealers and factory representatives to properly diagnose and repair problems with the trucks they purchase from your Company. In my view, it is to say the least, totally outrageous that Volvo would attempt to blame this problem on its customers. It is equally outrageous that Volvo would refuse to stand behind its product, and correct the obvious problems that are financially devastating to the small business trucker who, in good faith, purchases one of your trucks thinking he is buying a quality product with which he can earn a decent living.

In regard to Paul Abelson, while I agree with you as to Paul's outstanding reputation and qualifications, I must point out to you, as Paul did in his recent letter, that he is not OOIDA's technical representative, nor is he authorized to represent or speak on OOIDA's behalf. Paul works in the capacity of a freelance writer, developing and providing articles for Land Line, as well as other industry publications. Communications on this issue should be addressed to either myself or Ruth Jones, our Project Coordinator.

Finally, in reference to our November 10, 1999 meeting with your National Service Director Dwight McAlexander, and repeated in his letters of November 19, 1999, January 28, 2000 and March 2, 2000; I sincerely hope that your letter does not represent Volvo's findings and recommended solutions to this serious problem. The number of complaints has now risen to one hundred, with more coming in every week. If Volvo's solution is to simply blow this problem off by blaming its customers, then we will have no choice but to explore the potential for other remedies.

At your request, I will have your letter reprinted in the next available issue of Land Line, along with my response and the attached additional written complaints. This will be the July issue, with cutoff date of June 1. Please advise me within the next ten days if you change your mind. We would still prefer, as originally agreed, to meet with Volvo representatives to discuss your findings and proposed solutions.

Sincerely,
Jim Johnston
President OOIDA

Editor's note: Land Line will be publishing excerpts from these letters in the August issue.

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