Aspen’s M5500-8 55-ton hydraulic removable gooseneck lowboy trailer comes standard with 26 feet of flush deck, swing-out outriggers, protected air lines, a wide gooseneck support arm and a rear frame ready for a flip fourth axle or a 14-foot 1-inch spread single-axle booster. The trailer has a 116-inch gooseneck swing, bolted load-bearing wheel covers and a low-profile power-pack installation. Options include a 9-hp Honda engine, a locking chain basket and an air lift third axle.
The companies have not yet announced the acquisition of the Richmond, Virginia-based carrier.
According to the SEC filings, Abilene is “a diversified truckload carrier…operating throughout the contiguous United States and Canada, with approximately $100 million in annual revenues.” Knight Transportation, a subsidiary of Knight-Swift, is making the acquisition, according to the documents.
The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, as have details of the acquisition, such as whether Abilene will remain as-is or be folded under the Knight brand. Abilene is a privately held company.
EKA Solutions announced EKA Omni-TMS, a transportation management software-as-a-service platform that delivers visibility across the transportation chain with real-time tracking, connectivity and intuitive workflow design.
With visibility, order-to-cash and general ledger enterprise functions, EKA says the Omni-TMS provides connectivity between trading partners across all transportation modes and third-party services.
The all-new platform provides visual business intelligence (VBI) tools like PriceSolv that delivers required pricing information in an interactive graphical form for decision making. Also, the platform has proprietary technologies like RouteSolv, VisibilitySolv, DocuSolv and RiskSolv.
The company says EKA Omni-TMS helps small and medium businesses scale, adapt and compete in the new global supply chain world.
“Every major industry has seen a move towards unified digital platforms, whether you’re buying products from a retailer or streaming the newest music. Now the transportation industry has its own one-stop digital transportation platform in EKA Omni-TMS, said JJ Singh, CEO and founder of EKA Solutions.
Mark Walker, president of EKA Solutions added, “The supply chain is what powers America and everyone at EKA is committed to ensuring these small and medium size businesses receive the same cutting edge digital solutions at highly affordable prices that successfully power many successful large companies and help them thrive in the new supply chain world.”
“Despite this dip in turnover, the driver market remains tight and the driver shortage remains a real concern for fleets and the industry,” said ATA Chief Economist Costello said. “If the economic climate continues to improve, I expect both turnover and driver shortage concerns to rise in the near future.”
According to ATA’s Trucking Activity Report, the annualized turnover rate at large truckload fleets – those with more than $30 million in revenue – fell seven points to 88 percent in the fourth quarter. It was the first time the rate had dipped below 90 percent since the first quarter of 2017.
Turnover at small truckload fleets fell four points to 80 percent. The turnover rate at both large and small fleets, despite the quarter’s declines, was still 14 points higher than a year earlier.
“Despite the continuing tight driver market, I think there are a couple reasonable explanations for the dip in turnover this past quarter,” Costello said. “First, freight demand was very strong, which may have encouraged drivers to stay at their current fleet because they were making even better money with strong volumes. And second – many fleets implemented or announced pay increases last quarter, which may have disincentivized drivers from moving to new jobs.”
Tailwind Transportation Software has launched Tailwind Enterprise, a new web-based Enterprise Transportation Management Software (TMS) for small and mid-sized logistics companies.
“We are excited to launch Tailwind Enterprise for agile trucking companies and freight brokerages that need a system robust and flexible enough to manage their entire business, and allow for adjustments to their business model in the months and years ahead,” said Murray Pratt, president and chief executive of Tailwind Transportation Software.
“Our new Enterprise application enables freight transportation companies who want to challenge the conventions and norms of the industry – those who want to compete through information sharing, accessibility and collaboration with all the stakeholders in the supply chain.”
Tailwind Enterprise is offered on a monthly subscription basis and features a core TMS augmented by Enterprise features, including Self-Serve Portals. These Self-Serve Portals allow transportation companies to save on administrative time by providing self-service options for their customers, and their carriers, if they broker loads.
“We launched the Tailwind Pro web-based TMS a year ago to provide the market with an easy-to-access TMS with no contracts, no big installation charges or requirements, and no maintenance fees,” continued Pratt. “We’ve now launched Tailwind Enterprise for those entrepreneurial, and enterprise logistics companies that want to challenge the conventions of the industry and find new ways to do business using an online, web-based platform. It even includes an open API for customers who want to create their own custom integrations.”
Tailwind offers three tiers of its TMS software:
Standard – at $69/user/month
Pro – at $99/user/month
And now Enterprise – at $139/user/month
“At Tailwind we take and embrace customer feedback as a key element of our development planning,” said Pratt. “We’ve had requests for features like Shipment Tracking, Asset & Load Matching, EDI capability, and Advanced Reporting. These features will be added to our Enterprise offering over the next four-months – and will help our customer engage in their very own digital supply chain transformation.”
Mack is recalling approximately 135 model year 2018 Anthem, Granite and Pinnacle tractors for a potential defect in the lighting control module.
Mack Trucks is recalling approximate 135 model-year 2018 trucks for an issue that could cause the rigs’ light control module to fail, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration documents.
The recall affects certain 2018 Anthem, Granite and Pinnacle tractors manufactured between April 18, 2017, and Dec. 18, 2017. If the light control module fails, the trucks could lose exterior lighting, interior dashboard lighting and the windshield wipers.
According to documents, Mack has received no reports of crashes related to the defect, so the company considers the recall a proactive measure to prevent future crashes from occurring.
Mack is expected to begin notifying owners of affected trucks this month, and dealers will replace the modules for free. Owners can contact Mack customer service at 1-800-866-1177 with recall number SC0409. NHTSA’s recall number is 18V-152.
Editor’s note: This is the third of three articles looking at the Commercial Carrier Journal Economic Outlook Survey, which includes responses from 431 fleet representatives about their top concerns and outlook for 2018.
For-hire fleets ready to grow
Bolstered by improving business conditions, the majority of trucking companies plan to increase fleet size this year.
The 2006 pre-buy phenomenon notwithstanding, truck purchasing is a good barometer of fleet sentiment and the industry’s overall health. If recent order intakes hold steady, 2018 will indeed be a great year.
According to FTR, preliminary North American Class 8 truck orders began to creep upward from a 2017-low 16,419 trucks in May before jumping to an average of 34,909 trucks in the last three months of the year. In January 2018, truck orders eclipsed 47,000 units, a 116 percent increase from January 2017 and the highest monthly order total since early 2006.
“These levels were well above our already strong expectations and continue to indicate the equipment markets are still reacting to the tight capacity in the truck marketplace,” said Starks, adding that these levels aren’t sustainable but should remain high at least through the first half of this year.
Survey responses to changes in fleet size mirror the growth in truck orders. While only 35.5 percent of respondents said they added trucks in 2017, 56.1 percent plan to increase their truck counts this year. On the flip side, 16.0 percent said their fleet size shrunk last year, but only 5.8 percent expect it to shrink in 2018.
Trump’s impact on trucking
Trucking companies were mostly positive on the Trump administration’s policy and its impact on business conditions in 2017 and expect policy to help business conditions this year.
Carrier aspirations to grow likely will remain hampered by the current driver shortage, which reached critical levels in the second half of 2017. According to the “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis” report from the American Trucking Associations, the shortage was expected to reach 50,000 by the end of last year and could reach 174,000 by 2026.
Not surprisingly, driver availability overwhelmingly was the top concern for 66.4 of all respondents in CCJ’s survey, up from 46.0 percent in last year’s survey and 44.7 percent in 2016. Responses indicate larger fleets are more affected by the driver shortage, with 74.0 percent of respondents with more than 100 power units rating it their top concern compared to 60.0 percent of those with 10 to 100 power units.
Broken down by carrier type, driver availability is the top concern for 71.3 percent of for-hire carrier respondents, 51.3 percent of private fleet respondents and 40.0 percent of government and other fleet types.
“While the shortage is a persistent issue in our industry, motor carriers are constantly working to address it,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist and author of ATA’s report.
Recent carrier announcements of driver pay hikes – particularly by larger fleets – have become the norm as trucking companies try to remain competitive with other industries. In addition to hefty sign-on bonuses, starting pay for inexperienced drivers at truckload carriers can be 45 cents per mile or more, once considered the upper end of the pay scale for the safest, most experienced and most efficient drivers five years ago.
Driver pay leads the way as the expense item expected to increase the most in 2018 for 38.1 percent of all respondents, including 45.4 percent of those with more than 100 power units and 31.9 percent of those with 10 to 100 power units.
“Drivers have been leaving the field and finding other jobs that pay just as much or more, and they are home every night,” said one CCJ survey respondent from a for-hire carrier with 10 to 100 power units. “This problem is fixable, but it will take years to correct.”
Beyond raising driver pay, Costello said fleets can pursue other ways to attract and retain drivers, including improving driver lifestyles and promoting a positive image for trucking.
“There are also policy changes, like reducing the driver age as part of a graduated licensing system, or easing the transition for returning veterans, that can make getting into this industry easier and therefore help with the shortage,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is the second of three articles looking at the Commercial Carrier Journal Economic Outlook Survey, which includes responses from 431 fleet representatives about their top concerns and outlook for 2018.
Corporate tax cuts encourage fleet spending
The majority of for-hire trucking companies plan to allocate corporate tax savings toward driver wage increases and new equipment purchases.
From a business perspective, the Trump administration earned high marks from trucking company executives. Among CCJ Economic Outlook Survey respondents, 55.7 percent said the administration’s overall policy had a positive or extremely positive impact on their company’s business decisions in 2017, and 58.2 percent believe that policy will benefit them in 2018. Only 11.3 percent said Trump policy negatively impacted their businesses last year, while 32.9 percent said it had no impact.
In addition to the regulatory rollback, the new tax reform legislation enacted at the end of last year certainly is a reason Trump’s pro-business policy received high marks from respondents. According to the survey responses, much of the new capital will be directly reinvested in the business.
“The reduction in ineffective but costly regulations has had and will continue to have a tremendous positive impact,” said a CCJ survey respondent from a private fleet with more than 100 power units. “Reduced taxes allow us to pay higher wages, purchase equipment, improve telecom infrastructure and invest in expansion.”
Roughly 42 percent of both for-hire carrier and private fleet respondents plan to use tax savings to invest in new equipment purchases. Only 23.7 percent of private fleet respondents plan to apply tax savings to raise driver pay, compared to 43.3 percent of for-hire carrier respondents. On a truck-count basis, 44.4 percent of respondents with more than 100 power units plan to use tax savings to raise driver pay compared to 34.9 percent of respondents with 10 to 100 power units.
Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles looking at the Commercial Carrier Journal Economic Outlook Survey, which includes responses from 431 fleet representatives about their top concerns and outlook for 2018.
What company expense will increase the most in 2018?
Many trucking companies expect driver pay increases to be their biggest expense increase in 2018
Hours after being sworn in as President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump directed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to issue a two-page memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies to freeze any regulations not yet published in the Federal Register pending further review.
Priebus’ memo, and subsequent Executive Order 13771 by the Trump administration requiring agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for each new significant regulation, brought the rulemaking process to a grinding halt.
The Office of Management and Budget reviewed 666 rulemakings in President Obama’s last year in office compared to just 192 in Trump’s first year. OMB reviews of U.S. Department of Transportation-issued rulemakings dropped from 48 to 16. The annual number of pages in the Federal Register, a reflection of overall regulatory activity for which the Obama administration set records in six of eight years, dropped from 95,894 pages in 2016 to 61,950 in 2017 during Trump’s first year in office — the lowest in 25 years.
What is your biggest concern?
Driver availability remains the top concern for all respondents, for-hire carriers and private fleets. Government fleet respondents are most concerned with rising equipment costs.
Political climate in Washington
Cost of equipment
Cost of labor
Cost of credit
Access to credit
No. 1 Concern
No. 2 Concern
No. 3 Concern
No. 4 Concern
After enduring an unprecedented rate of regulatory proposals and final rules by DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, trucking companies have been able to breathe a collective sigh of relief under Trump. But the regulatory environment remains a concern for fleet executives in 2018, with 12.1 percent of respondents in the 2018 Commercial Carrier Journal Economic Outlook Survey (see “About the survey,” page 60) forecasting regulations will be their top challenge this year.
But when breaking down that 12.1 percent who list regulations as their top challenge by fleet size, another story emerges. Of survey respondents from fleets with 10 to 100 power units, 16.2 percent cite regulations as a top challenge in 2018, compared to only 7.1 percent of respondents from fleets with more than 100 power units.
Much of the current regulatory concerns – particularly among respondents from smaller fleets – likely center around the new electronic logging device mandate that took effect last December and the ongoing enforcement rollout.
According to a November 2017 survey of 1,982 carriers by carrier-sourcing firm CarrierLists, only 40 percent of fleets with 100 or fewer trucks had adopted ELDs – just six weeks before the deadline – while almost all the larger fleets in the survey already were ELD-compliant.
CarrierLists’ follow-up survey in December 2017 showed the adoption rate among smaller fleets had increased to 75 percent ahead of compliance. But as early adopters can attest, ELD implementation and compliance often carries a steep and prolonged learning curve and can hurt productivity for two years or more.
Productivity losses related to the ELD mandate, in addition to a strong freight environment, have contributed to tightened capacity and helped create one of the strongest rate environments in years, said Jonathan Starks, chief operating officer at industry analysis firm FTR.
“It’s no surprise to the industry that the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 have been good for carriers,” said Starks. “In terms of the overall economy and freight demand, we are looking at strong potential for further upside possibilities for carriers.”
The capacity crunch also is evident in the spot market. In January 2018, spot market loads grew to record levels with a 134 percent gain compared to January 2017, according to DAT Solutions. Meanwhile, capacity declined 6.9 percent compared to the same month last year. Monthly rates in the van, refrigerated and flatbed spot markets all logged significant year-over-year increases, up 35 percent, 24 percent and 36 percent, respectively.
For the risk averse there’s no more uncomfortable feeling than the day after a truck warranty expires, and buyers of used equipment may never feel the sense of relief that comes with not having to shoulder all the financial load of a major equipment failure.
Aftermarket warranties have become popular add-ons for used equipment and for extending coverage beyond a factory warranty expiration date but levels of coverage differ from standard factory warranties. While a manufacturer’s warranty may cover everything from the powertrain to the radio, aftermarket warranties generally offer coverage for only critical elements.
“OEMs typically cover many more items, many of which don’t ever fail and/or that are not expensive to replace,” says Lynn Murphy, president and CEO of Premium 2000. “As much as I dislike this description, an OEM has ‘bumper-to-bumper’ responsibility for a prescribed term length. Aftermarket warranties typically cover expensive, game changing repairs; ones that can bankrupt a commercial truck owner.”
Aftermarket warranties focus primarily on the engine, including aftertreatment, the transmission and rear axles since failure along the powertrain can be expensive in parts, labor and downtime.
“Most second life buyers are under-capitalized,” adds Ted Fick, executive chairman of National Truck Protection. “They only have enough down-payment for a used truck and the last thing they can afford is to pay for a $20,000 engine repair. For a few hundred dollar deductible, you can prevent from being thrown into bankruptcy.”
In most cases, any truck that passes a certification inspection by the underwriter is eligible for warranty coverage, but Fick says trucks older than 10 model years with more than 1 million miles would require a more thorough testing, which could include a visit to a dynamometer.
Underwriters also require an ECM download to check for any known faults, but if a truck doesn’t pass inspection there is still a path to obtaining a warranty.
“Our inspection is very similar to what the OEM dealer is doing anyway,” Fick says. “If there are issues, we ask that those be remedied before we put the warranty on that vehicle.”
Getting the coverage is one thing, keeping it is another. Once the truck has passed inspection, ongoing maintenance is part of the policy. Policy holders are required to document each time the truck stops for service and those records can be used to support the validity of a warranty claim.
“Our warranty has specific maintenance requirements per the class of vehicle,” says Lindsey Stroschein, executive director of customer and retailer services, TrüNorth Warranty Plans of North America. “Regular preventative maintenance at a licensed, certified facility is required in order to keep the warranty in place.”
Under the terms of an aftermarket warranty, fleets are required to keep track of their PM receipts, making sure to include the VIN of the vehicle being serviced, date of service and mileage at time of service.
If PM mandates are not met, Murphy says a warranty claim can be denied and the truck’s coverage could be voided.
“We don’t monitor the PM process on an ongoing basis,” he says. “We ask for records at time of claim. If the owner cannot produce the record that matches the PM mandates, the claim will be denied.”
“If we pull the plug on the [oil] pan and it looks like jelly coming out of it because you haven’t been changing the oil, then we’re going to require oil change maintenance records,” adds Chad Lucky, regional service director for National Truck Protection. “If you haven’t been maintaining the truck properly, it will void your warranty.”
Stroschein says customers are required to submit their PMs to the claims department for review as part of the claim itself, adding the company does make exceptions to its required maintenance for customers with five trucks or more.
“This is considered a fleet,” she says. “Only in a fleet situation approved by TrüNorth is the customer allowed to do their own maintenance.”
Truck Master President Jeff Dobish says Truck Master will allow policy holders to perform their own maintenance.
“In the rare event that we ask for maintenance records we will even accept invoices for purchasing the materials needed if the customer performs their own maintenance,” he adds.
For fleets with their own repair facility, internal records will be accepted.
“There are very few claims that require us to ask for maintenance records,” Dobish says.
When repair is needed, the only requirement of the policy holder is to use a licensed, ASE certified mechanic that is open to the general public.
“There is no in-network restrictions,” adds Dobish. “We want our customers to use shops they trust and are comfortable with if possible.”
Requiring only ASE certification, Fick says, provides a measure of professionalism that ensures quality repair work, but it also unlocks dealerships and aftermarket service providers coast-to-coast.
“This prevents inconvenience to the trucker suffering a breakdown,” Murphy says of not steering policy holders to specific repair locations. “An OEM or network provider may be 50 to 100 miles or more away from the breakdown, but a qualified shop may be five miles away.”
“Any OEM dealership is going to have ASE certified techs,” Fick says, “and there are any number of independent repair shops that are largely ASE certified. That’s kind of the standard.”
Stroschein says the warranty does not dictate part type or show preference to brands. The underwriter simply wants the part that best fixes the problem long-term.
“We are open to the repair facility using OE parts and/or reman, refurbished or used parts,” she says. “We need to be aware of the quality of parts going into the truck during the repair.”
Dobish adds the availability to the part often dictates whether a part needs to be OEM or aftermarket.
“We prefer to use OEM parts whenever possible to take advantage of the nationwide OEM warranty for the parts,” he says. “Considering the customers uptime is the most important factor when processing claims, we will do what is best for the customer and they are involved in the entire process so they know what we are doing at all times.”
During the repair process, the protocol for an aftermarket warranty doesn’t differ wildly from filing a claim with the OEM.
A repair facility or a customer should contact the underwriter either on the phone or file a claim through and online system where claims adjustors will review all the information submitted – including the estimate – and diagnostic information. Some policies require a photo of the failed part.
“[Adjustors] will be looking to make sure that the right parts are being used and that the repairs are being completed properly,” Dobish says. “We always want to make sure the repair facility has not overlooked any progressive damage caused by the failure.”
Once the underwriter confirms the failure and that the repairs are being completed properly, they will issue a written approval to the repair facility.
“As soon as the repairs are completed and the customer is happy with the work performed, we will pay [the shop] for the repairs with a credit card, ACH payment or a wire transfer immediately,” Dobish says. “In rare occasions a customer will pay for a repair that is warrantable and submit the invoice and diagnostic data, if applicable, to us and we will reimburse them directly for the repair.”
Unlike a manufacturer’s warranty, which must be purchased at the time the truck is bought, an aftermarket warranty can be added at any point throughout the truck’s lifecycle.
“You get one chance to buy an extended [OEM] warranty,” Fick says, “whereas you can add an aftermarket warranty at any time.”
Aftermarket policies can also be purchased for trucks nearing the end of their OEM warranty. If purchased before the OEM warranty lapses, the inspection process for the truck takes into account the warranty service history.
“Having an OEM warranty still on your truck helps you,” Lucky says. “If you let it run out then it hurts you. You’re going to have a little bit more tedious inspection process.”
The policy can be set up to offer immediate coverage as soon as the OEM warranty expires.
“If the OEM warranty expires at the end of April, the aftermarket warranty would go into effect May 1 and pick up right where the OEM left off,” Fick says. “There would be no gap in warranty coverage.”
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