Dale Martens moderates the Fleet CEO panel discussion.

Top execs offer insights into their trailer needs

Dec. 11, 2019
NTDA 2019 Convention coverage

The good news from the trailer fleet CEO panel discussion at the NTDA convention: Attendees had access to the thinking of four executives who collectively have 123 years of trucking experience and top management responsibility for fleets with a combined 100,000 trailers in service. The bad news: Moderator Dale Martens, past NTDA chairman, had only 45 minutes to pick their brains. Nonetheless, the rapid-fire chat ranged from the national infrastructure to trucking regs to tips for dealers looking to do business with them, or with fleets like theirs.

The all-star panel, representing public and private fleets with a wide range of rolling stock, included Darren Hawkins, CEO, YRC Freight; David Parker, CEO, Covenant Transport Inc.; Harold Sumerford, CEO, J&M Tank Lines; and Jim AuBuchon, president, Premier Trailer Leasing.

Hawkins got right to the point when he recalled recent testimony before Congress on the state of US highways.

“First of all, not as a CEO but as an American, I’m just greatly concerned about the infrastructure,” Hawkins said. “All of us in this room are dependent on federal funding for [highways] to make a living. Napping is the cause of the crisis that we’re in because this has been ignored for so long.”

And while there’s been a lot of talk about tolls and a vehicle miles traveled tax, those alternatives “are not even short-term solutions—much less long term.” He encouraged support for an American Trucking Associations proposal to bring in $340 billion to invest in the federal highway system. 

“If we don’t take action immediately, the Highway Trust Fund will actually be insolvent by 2021,” Hawkins said. “Trucking companies are willing to pay our fair share to protect our roads, bridges and interstates and that has to come through a fuel tax increase. Tell your congressman or congresswoman that we need action on this yesterday.” 

As for trucking regs, J&M’s Sumerford is concerned about attempts to reverse from the mandate for electronic logs that’s been phased in over the past two years—and about the Transportation Department’s willingness to grant exemptions to the ELD rule.

“We’ve got a genie in the bottle and we don’t need to let him out,” Sumerford said.

He also lamented soaring insurance costs, up 20-30% across the South in particular.

“There’s a trucker in Louisiana that I found out firsthand is paying $25,000 per truck [for insurance],” Sumerford said. “They’re out of business—they just don’t know it yet.”

For Covenant’s Parker, it’s state-by-state wage and hour laws that are a problem for a national carrier. “You can’t have 50 different ways you’ve got to pay employees,” he said.

And what does it take for a trailer dealer to get a foot in the door with some of the leading fleets in the US?

Premier’s AuBuchon emphasized the importance of knowing what to expect from repair shops, and to get estimates ASAP. 

“For us, it’s really important to have job/task pricing and get it quoted and to the customer as fast as possible so they can respond,” AuBuchon said.

Parker encouraged dealers to come visit.

“There’s a great opportunity for anybody in this room. We run all over the US. If you want some of that business, get with our breakdown centers; get with a VP of maintenance; get to know us,” Parker said, and he then turned the table on the dealers for a big laugh with a pitch of his own. “And we sell our own trailers, so if you want to buy some, holler.”