Navigating the challenges

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Continuous improvement is the name of the game.” -Gary Petty, president and CEO, National Private Truck Council


We all know it‘s a challenging time for the trucking industry, whether you operate 10 or 1,000 trucks, whether you are a for-hire or private carrier. That reality got serious acknowledgement at the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) annual conference in Cincinnati, OH, this week.


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(The show floor at NPTC's annual convention, held in Cincinnati this year.)


The 900 or so attendees all worried about the impact of sky-high diesel fuel prices on their businesses - then expressed further concern about finding and keeping drivers, getting more productivity out of their existing assets, managing equipment costs better, and on and on.


“Many of you are also going through fleet justifications - a ‘re-evaluation‘ of the private fleet within your company‘s business,” noted Gary Petty, NPTC‘s president and CEO, during his keynote speech. “That‘s why events like these, where you can share ideas and network with your peers, is so critical. For you never know when an idea may be found to help solve a problem your company faces.”


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(Gary Petty, NPTC's president and CEO, is on the right. That's Dan Baker on the left, trucking consultant and motivational speaker.)


A lot of ideas and information-gathering projects are getting up a head of steam at NPTC, ones geared to help the industry as a whole improve across a range of areas. First, the group is looking to add a dozen or so carriers to the 125 fleets already participating in its benchmarking study, so private fleets can compare themselves against the industry leaders to see where they can make improvements.


Petty mentioned that NPTC is also going to take a fresh look at the size and weight issue ahead of the next highway funding reauthorization bill, funding a study with the University of Michigan‘s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) to see if larger trucks carrying 97,000 lbs. versus today‘s 80,000-lb. limit can reduce the number of trucks on the road and thus reduce energy consumption. NPTC is looking for six carriers to participate in this study, Petty added.


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“We‘re going to try and scientifically establish gains in productivity plus more effective use of highways and bridges via this study, which should start this may and end in September,” he said. “We believe it will be an important contribution to public policy.”


NPTC is also going to redouble its focus on the truck driver community as it looks to expand current driver recognition efforts. That includes the creation of an “All-Stars” program in Sept. 2009 (based on safety data compiled this year) where drivers will be nominated based on customer service, personal appearance, cleanliness of equipment, on-time delivery rates, as well as safety. “These non-driving functions are so critical to the private fleet‘s function today and deserve recognition,” Petty said.


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(Robert Boyich of CPC Logistics took home an award from FleetOwner for being the top gradutate in NPTC's Certified Transportation Professional program for 2008.)


Finally, NPTC is forging a new relationship with third-party logistics provider C.H. Robinson, to provide NPTC member fleets with access to pools of backhaul freight nationwide. Called “Fleet Optimizer,” Petty said the program seeks to reduce the average 28% of deadhead miles private carriers log every year by giving them access to consistent freight volume in lanes they already cover.


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(Many suppliers at NPTC's convention used tricked out trucks as part of their exhibit displays.)


“We already work with private fleets - this program formalizes and expands that effort,” Eric Jax, branch manager for C.H. Robinson‘s national carrier group, told me at the show. “Private carriers not only have consistent capacity on dedicated routes, they have the kinds of drivers and focus on safety and professionalism we look for. We are always looking to build more consistent capacity and we plan to begin ramping up this program over the next several months.”


So despite the challenges now engulfing the trucking industry as a whole, private fleets and the association that represents them, aren‘t standing still - their mapping new courses to help improve their business models.


“We need to let the world know our value,” said Petty. “They need to know how we help our nation keep rolling.”

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