Clutch time

As a rule, I stay away from using sports to illustrate fleet issues, largely because I think today's overpaid, overindulged, and egotistical athletes have nothing to offer fleet managers in the way of useful business strategy. That said, I'm going to break my rule and discuss The Catch, which took place in the 1981 NFC Championship football game. With 51 seconds on the clock, San Francisco 49ers quarterback

As a rule, I stay away from using sports to illustrate fleet issues, largely because I think today's overpaid, overindulged, and egotistical athletes have nothing to offer fleet managers in the way of useful business strategy. That said, I'm going to break my rule and discuss “The Catch,” which took place in the 1981 NFC Championship football game.

With 51 seconds on the clock, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana connected with tight end Dwight Clark on a six-yard touchdown pass, beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-27. It's a legendary play: Montana rolling to his right while pursued by three Dallas linebackers and firing a high pass to the corner of the end zone, where Clark had to jump about three feet in the air to make the catch.

But the most important aspect of the play wasn't revealed until after Montana retired. During a televised interview, he explained that Coach Bill Walsh had made him and Clark practice that play over and over, just in case they needed it. Montana had doubted the wisdom of spending so much time on one clutch play — until he used it in that last-ditch effort to beat the Cowboys. That made him a firm believer in Coach Walsh's game plans.

So what's the point here? It's simple. We're heading into what could be a very rough stretch of time for trucking fleets, especially on the light- and medium-duty side. As a fleet manager, you may need to start thinking about putting together some clutch plays of your own. Here's why:

Truck insurance

Premiums are predicted to jump 15% or more this year, on top of the 15% increase in 2001. You have to find a way to absorb that cost.

Health insurance

These premiums are also expected to jump, perhaps by 13%-15%.

Wages

Drivers are scarce and will get scarcer. Predictions are that Class 8 fleets will have to increase driver pay 24% over the next three years to keep their rigs rolling. Light- and medium-duty fleets will have to compete for drivers, too, and that may mean wage increases for them as well.

Mechanics

Industry experts predict a major mechanic shortage over the next four years. Whether you perform fleet maintenance in-house or outsource it, that shortage will drive up the cost of obtaining good maintenance work.

Engines

This year marks the beginning of a long series of diesel emissions reduction mandates. The upshot is that diesel engines will be more expensive — anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 more by the time we reach 2007.

Fuel

The good news is that fuel prices this winter are predicted to be far lower than in recent years. The bad news is that fuel economy for the diesel engines built to comply with the new emissions standards will probably decrease by 2%-5% from what you get now.

Security

There have been a lot of aftershocks following the terrorist attacks of September 11. One result has been tighter security regarding truck traffic, in light of several suspected terrorist attempts to get hazmat CDL qualifications. There's been a flurry of aggressive inspection activity at border crossings and on the highways, along with restricted truck access in places like Washington, D.C., and New York City. Will your fleet have to deal with longer wait times for roadside inspections and re-routing around restricted areas?

Those are just some of the issues you'll face this year. To master them, you may need to add a few clutch plays to your fleet's strategic plan. And those plays could be a lot harder to execute than the one Walsh put together for Montana and Clark.

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