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The Next Workplace? Behind The Wheel

Dec 3, 2012
Originally published on December 3, 2012 4:57 am

Brad Hines is a building contractor in Los Angeles who spends a good eight hours a day in his 2008 Dodge Ram. He talked to us from his truck — hands-free, of course.

"I do everything in my truck. I drive from job site to job site. I take calls. I try to get on the computer and clean up daily reports. I answer emails on my phone. I use my truck as a mobile office," Hines says.

The idea of the mobile office is far from new — Willy Loman; the Avon Lady; plumbers; electricians. Now, technology is taking the idea of working from the road to a whole new level.

Hines is not alone. For people who drive trucks, utility is key.

How Business Is Done

"This is the biggest tool in their toolbox," says Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram truck brand.

The trucks his company is showing off at the L.A. Auto Show offer not just the traditional functions of a truck — towing, hauling or the ability to bring a crew to a job site. Now, these trucks can function as an outright office.

In the center console of the high-end Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn, there's a media hub where you can charge an iPad or a laptop. The truck has a touch screen to access your media while parked or driving. There's a USB port and an SD card slot. You can even turn the truck into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Why would anyone need all this in their truck?

"We've all probably had someone come out and give us an estimate — a plumber or an electrician. Typically, they've come out, they write something down, they leave, and they may get it back to you. What this allows them to do is they can come right out to your house, they can go sit in their truck, and they can complete that whole application, print it, and hand it to you right there," Hegbloom says.

A Connected World

"Being able to print something out is a big deal for a contractor. I mean, it might be the difference in getting the deal and not getting the deal," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book.

Dodge isn't the only manufacturer to offer this kind of connectivity. Over at the Ford booth is Mike Levine, the truck communications manager for Ford Motor Co.

"We understand that our worker customers expect more and more out of their trucks every year, because they're mobile workers now," he says. "They have cellphones. They have laptops. They're very connected. Actually, our F-series owners have some of the highest penetration rates of all of our vehicles of smartphone usage because they're actually running businesses from their trucks," Levine says.

And there are a lot of F-series truck owners. Ford's F-150 has been the best selling vehicle — that's car or truck — in the U.S. for the past 30 years. Levine was sitting in a 2013 King Ranch F-150. It has similar connectivity to the Ram. All this functionality can make a big difference, Nerad says.

"We're going to see more and more functionality out of vehicles. We're a connected people now. So vehicles that allow that, and allow that in a safe way without making us distracted by it, will be the winners in the marketplace," Nerad says.

And for the really big winners in the marketplace, they might consider, say, having someone else do the driving for them.

"People, when they're in the back of this car, they like to do business. Yeah, they like to work. They're not desperately interested in the scenery going by. So it's kind of dead time. So how can I fill it?" says Kevin Rose from sales and marketing at Bentley Worldwide, talking about the 2013 Mulsanne.

In addition to all the office-y features the trucks offer, you can video-conference in the Bentley or outfit it with a hard drive in the trunk. Not to mention store a bottle of champagne to toast the deal in the fridge nestled between the back seats. Starting at $296,000, this is not the mobile office for your average worker. Still, it's a fine place to work.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is the beginning of the auto show season and as always car companies are rolling out their new models. But some of these vehicles are not just about the performance under the hood. They're designed to perform as mobile offices.

NPR's Nina Gregory reports in today's business bottom line.

NINA GREGORY, BYLINE: Call up Brad Hines and chances are he's in his 2008 Dodge Ram.

BRAD HINES: I do everything in my truck.

GREGORY: He's a building contractor in Los Angeles, who spends a good eight hours a day driving to jobs.

HINES: I drive from job site to job site. I take calls, I try to get on the computer and clean up daily reports. I answer emails on my phone. I use my truck as a mobile office.

GREGORY: And automakers know this.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The LA Auto Show, featuring everything that's new in the automotive world...

GREGORY: Among the bright lights and glossy paint, you'll find Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram truck brand. And he's more than happy to talk about what he says these trucks mean to their drivers.

BOB HEGBLOOM: This is the biggest tool in their toolbox.

GREGORY: Now, you think trucks and tools and maybe imagine hammers and socket sets. And there are plenty of neatly designed places for those tools on this truck. But when you sit in the front seat, there's a different kind of toolbox. It's been designed as real workplace for a modern businessman.

HEGBLOOM: We've all probably had someone come out and give us an estimate - a plumber or an electrician. Typically, they've come out, they write something down, they leave and they may get it back to you. What this allows them to do is they can come right out to your house. They can go sit in their truck and they can complete that whole application, print it, and hand it to you right there.

GREGORY: On this Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn, there are plenty of ports, chargers and places to store devices. Lots of surface space to spread out and do paperwork. To print, if you need to.

JACK NERAD: Being able to print something out is a big deal for a contractor. I mean, it might be the difference in getting the deal and not getting the deal.

GREGORY: That's Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book. He hears from a lot of readers about what they're in the market for. He's worked in the automotive industry for decades; the former editor of Motor Trend and Automotive Age. He's seen these vehicles evolve.

NERAD: We're going to see more and more functionality out of vehicles. We're a connected people now, so vehicles that allow that and allow that in a safe way - without making us distracted by it - will be the winners in the marketplace.

GREGORY: When it comes to sales, the winner in this marketplace is Ford. Its F-150 line has been the best-selling vehicle, that's car or truck, in the U.S. for the past 30 years.

Mike Levine is a Ford spokesman. Just ask and he'll run you through every bit of technology on the F-150.

MICHAEL LEVINE: New for 2013 is a brand new eight-inch display in the center stack. It has Ford's My Ford Touch system, so it is our premier connectivity solution for telephone and entertainment.

GREGORY: A lot of what's in this truck, Levine says, is designed with work in mind.

LEVINE: I may be someone on a job site. I could be wearing work gloves. Not exactly easy to use with a touch screen. So we have here redundant controls that are optimized for truck owners who are wearing gloves. So you see, we have these nice knobs, they've got a great feel to them.

GREGORY: Now, not everyone wears work gloves and boots to work. There are offerings at the auto show for the wingtipped worker, too. For the business person looking to make a very bold gesture, there's Bentley.

KEVIN ROSE: People when they're in the back of this car, they like to do business. Yeah, they like to work. You know, they're not desperately interested in the scenery going by. So it's kind of dead time. So how can I fill it?

GREGORY: That's Kevin Rose, from sales and marketing at Bentley Worldwide, talking about the 2013 Mulsanne model. In addition to all the officey features the trucks offer, in the Bentley, you can video conference or install a full computer in the trunk. There's also a fridge between the back seats. It can store two bottles of champagne to toast the deal. Starting at $296,000, this is not the mobile office you're likely to see on a jobsite. Still, it's a fine place to work.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, '2-4-6-8 MOTORWAY")

TOM ROBINSON: (Singing) And it's a two, four, six, eight, ain't never too late. Me and my radio trucking on through the night. Three, five, seven, nine, on a double white line. Motorway sun coming up with the morning light. Whiz kid sitting pretty on your two-wheel stallion. This old 10-ton lorry got a bead on you. Ain't no use in loafing with a bad companion. Ain't nobody get the better of you know who...

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.