Fleets tell suppliers they’re changing

LAS VEGAS. Truckload carriers are not going to be in much of a truck-buying mood this year and may be rethinking their trade cycles-- pushing them out from three years to four or five, according to three well-know truckload executives

LAS VEGAS. Truckload carriers are not going to be in much of a truck-buying mood this year and may be rethinking their trade cycles-- pushing them out from three years to four or five, according to three well-know truckload executives.

Speaking to truck and component manufacturers gathered for the one-day Heavy Duty Dialogue conference here, Swift Transportation president Jerry Moyes said: “We used to run trucks for a million miles and the quality wasn’t anywhere near as good as it is now. With the improvement in quality, we’re looking at running our trucks another year or two.” As for new truck purchases, Moyes said: “We’re done for this year.”

“We’ve already gone from three years to four [on trade cycles] and now we’re looking at five years,” said Pat Quinn, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress Enterprises. “It may be time for trade cycles based on [tractor] condition, not age.” Quinn also told the conference attendees that his fleet might be in the market for new trucks in the second half of 2010, but the purchase “would not be substantial. We’ve also discussed buying two-year-old used equipment.”

O&S Trucking does plan to buy some new trucks in the next few months, but has also started buying used equipment, according president and founder Jim O’Neal. The focus for his refrigerated fleet has been on the development of “MegaTruck” specs that allow it to carry heavier payloads and reduce the per-ton cost of transportation for its customers, O’Neal told the conference.

Those specs were developed in collaboration with truck and component manufacturers, O’Neal said, but he challenged those at the conference “to design and develop the innovative products we need to make dramatic improvements in vehicle freight efficiency.”

Turning to recent proposals for higher gross weight limits, all three fleet executives urged caution. While an increase to 97,000 lb. GVW ratings might benefit “a narrow niche” of carriers, a smaller jump to 85,000 to 87,000 lb. limits would be better for most because it wouldn’t make current trucks and trailers obsolete, O’Neal said.

Pointing out that 80% of Swift’s truck cube out before they reach the current 80,000 lb. GVW limit, Moyes added that an 86,000 lb. GVW standard would provide some productivity gains while still satisfying safety concerns about heavier truck combinations.

With the improving economy on everyone’s mind at the conference, the three fleet executives also agreed that the driver shortage would reemerge as freight picks up.

“It’s going to continue to be a long-term problem for the industry,” said Moyes. “We’ve got to find ways to make it a better job and to pay drivers more.”

“At the end of the day, the job is what it is – driving a truck and being away from home,” added Quinn. “So [finding new drivers] will come down to how much we can pay them. I expect drivers are going to be making a lot more money.”

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