Survey: Fuel management most crucial issue for U.S. trucking

Controlling escalating fuel costs for America’s private truck fleets is the top trucking industry concern, according to industry leaders in a survey commissioned by First Fleet Corporation.

The industry leaders were polled on the Web and at First Fleet’s recent Spring Fleet Managers’ Conference attended by senior fleet operations managers for Fortune 500-level companies.

To manage fuel costs, 48% of those polled said they are using on-site fueling stations, while 38% have issued credit or debit cards to their drivers to refuel at stations where they have negotiated rates with oil companies.

“The hottest topic in the trucking industry is finding new solutions to reduce fuel consumption and ways to lessen the impact of soaring prices on fleet profit margins,” said John Flynn, President & CEO, First Fleet Corporation. “In the ongoing cost control war, private truck fleets are constantly looking for new ways to rein in operating expenses. First Fleet advises our customers, based on extensive research, to review operating methods to lower current fuel consumption and adjust the specs on their new truck orders to counteract the impact new engine emissions standards will have on their fleet operating costs.”

In addition to fuel management, the survey addressed two other industry issues – maintenance service and collision management.

Fleet managers said that maintaining their truck fleets at optimum operating condition is a major focus; the most important concern is how and where maintenance is performed. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed said they have on-site maintenance facilities, with 23% outsourcing maintenance and repair services to contractors’ facilities.

Forty-two percent of the respondents solved this challenge by using a balanced combination of company-run shops and outside facilities. Ninety percent of the fleets that use outside shops have been doing so for more than two years.

Indications are that a large number of mechanics have been temporarily removed from the workforce to serve in the war in Iraq. In light of that, it is not surprising that 33% of the respondents reported difficulties in recruiting or retaining qualified service technicians. However, only 3% of the fleets have turned to outsourcing in the last two years. Associated Materials fleet executive Mike Hatfield observed, “Our biggest issue is downtime. It’s almost impossible to get same-day service on the road. We have a lot of 24/7 shops that close at midnight. Why? Lack of techs.”

The survey posed a question about the reliability of new equipment purchased in the last two years compared to older equipment. This resulted in a dead heat: 38% of respondents believe newer trucks are more reliable, while 38% said new trucks are just as reliable as older trucks. Only 15% thought new trucks are less reliable than older ones.

Most fleet trucks are driven on a daily basis, offering considerable exposure to the risk of accidents. On the topic of collision management, the survey asked fleet managers how their companies handle issues associated with truck accidents, including recovery costs, repairs, etc.

Eighty-three percent of those surveyed said accident management is handled within their company. Of the 14% whose companies do not have this internal function, 56% reported outsourcing the task. When asked to rate their level of satisfaction with various aspects of collision management, the highest rating went to vehicle repairs. They were most dissatisfied with the availability of substitute equipment.

For a full summary of the First Fleet National Survey of Fleet Managers, please visit the Web site: http://ffcsurvey.starmark.com

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