Making it work

A growing driver shortage, new government rules challenge French fleetIn his battle for profitability, Dominique Bataille, managing director of Transports Bataille S.A. in Paris, France, must navigate a growing driver shortage and new government rules that will make that fight even tougher.Bataille operates a fleet of 12 tractor-trailers, 11 of which are the Renault V.I. Magnum. He has turned maintenance

A growing driver shortage, new government rules challenge French fleet

In his battle for profitability, Dominique Bataille, managing director of Transports Bataille S.A. in Paris, France, must navigate a growing driver shortage and new government rules that will make that fight even tougher.

Bataille operates a fleet of 12 tractor-trailers, 11 of which are the Renault V.I. Magnum. He has turned maintenance of the units over to his dealer, France V.I. Paris Sud. Operations cover a 250-mi. radius from Paris, hauling vegetables and dairy products. The typical unit runs about 100,000 mi. a year, with maintenance based on 20,000-mi. intervals.

About half of the fleet's 15 drivers are home every night, while the rest are on the road the whole week. Bataille, who actually began his career as a driver, takes a turn behind the wheel about once a week. "It's very good that a manager drives," he says, "because he feels what his drivers do."

One of the political changes that has hampered Bataille's ability to attract drivers is the decline of the defense establishment after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

During the days when young men were drafted, he was able to recruit drivers who had already gone through a rigorous training program.

"The training for lorry drivers is very difficult," he explains. "They typically have two years of training - 18 months of school and 6 months of on-the-job work." The government requires that drivers learn safety skills, loading techniques, and how to drive economically, as well as have a working knowledge of regulations.

Because the fleet hauls fresh produce, Bataille is not affected by a government rule that limits weekend truck movements to those fleets hauling perishable items.

Another regulation is proving a bit more problematic for Bataille. This is a push to restrict the workweek to no more than 35 hours.

Many businesses believe this is designed to force private companies to increase payroll, thus reducing the number of people who receive public assistance. Companies worry that such a move will undermine their ability to compete by driving up costs just as Europe is becoming more commercially integrated.

Bataille is no different. Like most French companies, Bataille pays his drivers a salary, nearly a quarter of which goes directly to taxes and insurance. Drivers can work up to 56 hours a week.

When asked about the impact the new rule would have on his fleet, he just waves his hands. "We'll have to add 20% more drivers," he says. "Our customers are not prepared to pay more. There's a danger that fleets from other European countries will come in and take my business because they can offer more competitive rates."

Bataille also controls the spec'ing, making equipment decisions - based on productivity, quality, and price - in concert with his dealer. He turns power units every three years and trailers every six.

In recent years, Bataille has given his drivers more input in this decision. "They have a lot of power in equipment selection," he says. "That's one of the benefits of a small company. We can listen to our drivers."

Bataille points to the change to more powerful engines as a case in point. Five years ago he was spec'ing 380-hp. powerplants. Today he specs a 470-hp. engine.

That decision also benefited his operation. Although trucks are limited to 90 km/hr. on the highway, the bigger engines mean he can increase his average speed, enabling drivers to make the trip from customers in Normandy to Paris in one day. Previously, units had to stop just outside of Paris.

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