Based in Findlay, OH, the Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has operated a private truck fleet for more than 50 years, using a major brand full-service leasing company for its 17 sleeper-berth tractors. The fleet has 68 trailers (both owned and leased). Among the 25 drivers in the fleet, about 60% are union-member company employees; about one-third are leased drivers through two separate driver leasing companies; and one driver is a non-union company employee. Driver tenure ranges from two to 32 years; yearly turnover, which is mostly due to retirement, is less than 6%.
Although the company's private fleet represents less than 4% of Cooper's total transportation program, the fleet plays a critical role in providing niche services of interplant materials movement and direct internal customer deliveries. The fleet successfully benchmarks against market costs of outside carriers and third-party logistics companies, and demonstrates year after year its continued value in terms of cost control and efficient deployment of on-demand capacity.
Fleet management consists of one part-time staff support person and one full-time employee: Douglas Lyon, fleet operations manager. Lyon has been with the company 32 years in various administrative roles at the plant level until moving into traffic management. He was appointed fleet manager in 2001 and has been active with the NPTC ever since.
“Our private fleet has pretty straightforward metrics for success,” says Lyon. “On-time delivery, customer satisfaction, high safety performance, and cost containment — these are our primary scorecards.”
One area of Cooper Tire's fleet operation is customer deliveries. These drivers are on the road for a day or two at a time making deliveries to various customer locations. A second area is its over-the-road operation. A typical run for these drivers is 3½ days. A driver leaves the manufacturing plant in Findlay with a full load — mostly passenger and light truck tires — and goes directly to the distribution center in Dallas, TX. He drops and hooks in Dallas and heads for the Texarkana plant in Arkansas where, once again, he drops and hooks to a distribution center in Indiana. He then picks up another loaded trailer and heads back to Findlay. Using a slip-seat operation, another driver gets into the tractor and repeats the same cycle of run while the returning driver takes 3½ days off.
To stay competitive in cost and efficiency, Cooper Tire's fleet is looking into innovative technologies. “We are experimenting with trailer skirts, rear-view cameras, and GPS tracking units,” Lyon says.
The company also takes advantage of the NPTC Benchmarking Studies, as well as NPTC member-to-member networking opportunities. Lyon says he calls or emails several members each year to share information about best practices and innovative management initiatives. He also consults frequently with Rick Schweitzer, the Council's government affairs representative and general counsel.
Lyon says the outlook for Cooper's private fleet is excellent. “The demand for Cooper tires is very high. Cooper is looking at expanding its private fleet for more customer deliveries at all locations,” he explains. “We take nothing for granted and must continuously justify the private fleet. The future looks bright because we're building on a solid track record of performance.”
Gary Petty is president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's website is www.nptc.org. His column appears monthly in Fleet Owner.