Leasing providers today are finding that customers expect a lot more out of them than years ago. Brown NationaLease's customers are no exception.
“Our lease customers turn their decision-making about equipment over to us,” says Tom Brown, president of the family-owned and operated full-service leasing company based in Des Moines, IA. “We insulate them from many of the issues they can face when acquiring and operating the tractors and trailers they need to run their businesses. In effect, we serve as both consultants and suppliers to customers that use trucks but aren't in the trucking business.”
A major consideration of late for Brown has been the performance of new emissions-compliant engines. “This has been one of the struggles for all of us in trucking,” Brown relates. “The new technology required by EPA for engines has raised the technical bar significantly. We are faced with keeping this equipment performing efficiently and cost-effectively for our customers.”
Brown says that higher-than-expected use of diesel exhaust fluid and failure rates that have led to an increase in downtime are a couple of the challenges the company is facing with the new engines.
“Our customers turn to us to address these problems so we have to find the solutions,” Brown states. “While our suppliers have been very proactive and our customers have exhibited a high degree of patience as we work through these issues, we still need to have answers.”
New engines have also raised another long-standing question for Brown, namely how to continue to spec equipment that maximizes fuel economy. The company did anticipate higher mpg with the new engines and still believes it will increase, but won't know until the fleet has more trucks that have run at least 40,000 to 50,000 mi. with the new powerplants.
Brown does work with customers to show them ways they can save fuel such as slowing down vehicles and limiting idle time. It also routinely suggests they add systems and components like auxiliary heaters and power units designed to cut fuel consumption. In addition, Brown is making automatic tire inflation systems standard on all of its new trailers.
Safety regulations are impacting Brown and its customers as well. “The new CSA program may impact their ability to hire qualified help, and could reduce the pool of available drivers,” Brown says. “For our part, we're providing vehicles that are specified for driver comfort and convenience. At the same time, we're actively managing maintenance for maximum uptime, looking at equipment as often as we can to catch and repair any potential safety defects.”
Brown is also preparing for a challenge that the entire truck leasing industry will soon face. New financial regulations from the Financial Accounting Standards Board affecting how equipment leases are structured now appear imminent, and will raise the question of whether owning or leasing vehicles is the best choice.
Brown currently fields 1,200 to 1,400 trailers, the majority of which are Great Dane refrigerated, dry van and platform models. Its 2,100 to 2,200 power units include many makes and models, although Freightliner has been its primary supplier for the past year.
Founded nearly 70 years ago, Brown provides truck and trailer rental and leasing, contract maintenance and logistics services, including dedicated contract carriage from 20 locations in Iowa and the adjoining states. Recently, it acquired the PacLease affiliate in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Omaha, and the Quad Cities region, adding 320 power units and 60 customers to the now dual-brand leasing company.
“Our growth and the industry and equipment challenges we face,” Brown says, “mean we will strive harder than ever to be the source of creative solutions for our customers.”