Handling more than 2.5 billion lbs. of freight annually, including more than 1.3 billion lbs. for its parent company, the Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations trucking fleet traveled more than 35 million mi. in 2011 alone. “Whether it’s shipments to our customers, returns from stores and dealers, tires from plants to distribution centers, raw materials to plants, or loads under our for-hire authority,” says Ron D. Tartt, general managerprivate fleet, “we give every customer the very best service while operating at the lowest possible cost.
“We’re always making an effort to fill empty miles as a means of offsetting operating costs,” Tartt states. “In an average week, after delivering loads to more than 5,500 U.S. and Canadian customers and backhauling to our seven distribution centers, we haul more than 125 loads as a for-hire carrier. “Every mile counts,” Tartt continues, “but we will run empty on some lanes because our primary mission is to serve our customers, plants and distribution centers. When we commit to backhauls, though, we provide the same quality service to everyone.”
Central to that effort is a private fleet of more than 300 tractors and 700 trailers. “Our equipment is young on average,” says Kirk Rutherford, CTP, manager, private fleet, maintenance & equipment. “About two-thirds of our tractors—an almost equal balance of day cab and sleeper models—are 2010 and newer models. Our trailers average just four years.”
The Bridgestone fleet is leased from several lessors based on annual reviews of acquisition needs, lifecycles and cost of funds. Almost half of the tractors are Kenworths and the balance is split between Peterbilt and Volvo models. Powertrains are alike regardless of OEM, and current specs call for Cummins engines, Eaton Fuller transmissions, and a full complement of safety technologies. Great Dane supplies three-fourths of the trailer fleet while Utility Trailer builds the rest. About 60% are 48-ft. models and another 30% are 53 footers. Standard specs include air-ride suspensions, steel interior linings and composite floors, and aluminum wheels and automatic tire inflation systems.
Maintenance for the Bridgestone fleet is handled by a combination of contract and in-house operations. “At our larger distribution centers, we operate four on-site service facilities and have washing and fueling stations,” explains Rutherford. “The equipment we domicile in outlying areas is serviced by more than 50 Ryder locations around the U.S.”
An integral part of Bridgestone’s fleet management strategy is to take advantage of the benefits offered by industry associations. Rutherford, for example, is active in the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), where he says fleet managers can learn from each other by sharing experiences and ideas, and working together on projects that help everyone.
For Tartt, the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) has great value for Bridgestone. “NPTC is the only association that serves private fleets as a distinct industry segment,” he says. “Along with the chance to network with other private fleets to benchmark our operation and find opportunities to improve, with NPTC we know there’s an association we can depend on to have our best interests in mind.”
Bridgestone, as a trucking supplier and a trucking operation, is keenly aware of the challenges the industry as a whole is facing. “We are always watching engine developments,” Rutherford points out. “We spec the latest emissions-compliant diesels, and we’re testing natural gas-powered tractors in California.” For the private fleet, Ron Tartt adds, rising equipment and fuel costs create ongoing and increasingly difficult challenges, but ones it is addressing effectively while ensuring all customers receive only the very best service.