Turn the page and join us in applauding this year’s three winners of the Fleet Owner Fleet of the Year Awards—one each from the for-hire, private and vocational segments of trucking.

Each honored fleet operation has been selected by the editors in recognition of the innovative management techniques its executives have implemented to advance the given fleet’s overall mission and to guarantee continued success even in the face of any particular challenges.

Fleet Owner recognizes each of these winning fleets for achievements that fully reveal excellence in operational management.

That’s why nominations are not sought for these awards nor are they linked to any industry association or influenced by any outside group. Rather, candidates are identified and researched over the course of the year just passed by Fleet Owner’s editors, who then determine the winners and runners-up.

The challenges facing for-hire, private and vocational fleets may vary as much as their operations do, but all of our honorees exemplify the mark of leadership we are proud to salute with Fleet Owner’s Tenth Annual Fleet of the Year Awards.

2011 For-Hire Winner

2011 Private Winner

2011 Vocational Winner

For-Hire winner
Heartland Express
North Liberty, IA

Heartland Express hasn’t just been ahead of the trend toward regionalizing truckload freight, it’s been one of the trendsetters. And this year, with trucking still riding the roller coaster of a sluggish economic recovery, the highly profitable nationwide trucking operation finds its foresight and commitment to doing business differently is again paying off handsomely, according to Michael J. Gerdin, president, CEO & chairman.

The carrier was founded in 1978 by Gerdin’s late father, Russell, who launched the enterprise just a few years before deregulation began remaking trucking—much in the favor of irregular-route carriage. Russell Gerdin expanded Heartland’s operations rapidly in the ’80s, took it public in 1986, and led the firm until taking a leave of absence for medical reasons back in January.

Gerdin says his father, who died Oct. 15 at age 70 after battling a long illness, had the vision “to see long ago that [the freight] business would get shorter and faster—hence requiring that our operations be regionalized—and that doing so would help get our drivers home more often and that in turn would lower turnover and boost customer service. Regional truckload may be new to some, but we have been working on improving it for 20 years.”

The Heartland fleet operates out of 10 regional locations to cover the country. Of its freight, 70% is hauled regionally and those drivers are never more than 500 mi. from home. Another 25% is handled by a “system fleet” that “spans any gaps between regions and will move freight anywhere in the U.S. via longer hauls,” notes Gerdin. The remaining 5% is moved by team drivers who run coast to coast. The fleet numbers some 3,000 tractors and 8,000 53-ft. dry vans. The driver force is about 5% owner-operator.

What Heartland is doing even in this year’s rough economy is by any measure working superbly. Consider that, per its latest financial report, the carrier posted for the first nine months of this year an operating ratio of just 79.9% as well as a 13.3% net margin. Challenges cited in the 3Q report centered on tight driver availability and escalating fuel prices.

To lessen the impact of diesel prices in 2011, Gerdin reports that Heartland has paid a lot of attention to fuel surcharge pricing, truck idling and fuel-purchasing decisions. But fitting its hallmark of innovation, the carrier has gone a considerable step further this year. Both to cut fuel consumption and to help it find and keep the qualified truck drivers it considers essential to delivering the award-winning customer service for which it is widely known, it has significantly reduced the age of both its tractor and trailer fleets.

“Our new tractor fleet is one of the most fuel-efficient in the industry, and all units are equipped with idling-management controls,” explains Gerdin. “By year’s end, our oldest truck will be a 2010 model. We took delivery of 196 new International ProStar Plus tractors in the third quarter and will purchase another 329 new trucks during the remainder of the year.

“We’re also continuing to upgrade our trailer fleet and so took delivery of 715 new Great Dane and Wabash trailers during the third quarter,” he continues. “We sold a total of 2,453 trailers through the first nine months of the year.” He points out that utilization was “negatively impacted throughout the year thanks to routing sold trailers to various drop locations while taking advantage of a robust used-trailer market.”

Gerdin points out that “these fleet upgrades will keep our tractor and trailer fleet new, which appeals to drivers, and will position Heartland to take advantage of growth opportunities while also allowing us to maintain our strong CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) scores.”

Runners-Up:

Southeastern Freight Lines
Lexington, SC

Regional LTL carrier SEFL is noted for its outstanding customer-service performance

Pottle’s Transportation
Hermon, ME

This truckload carrier launched a campaign to fully educate its drivers well ahead of the roll-out for CSA compliance

2011 For-Hire Winner

2011 Private Winner

2011 Vocational Winner

Private
Safeway
Pleasanton, CA

A Fortune 500 company that ranks as America’s second-largest supermarket operator, Safeway Inc. relies on its private fleet not only to deliver product to some 1,700 stores in the continental U.S. (in seven Western, Central and Mid-Atlantic states), Alaska, Hawaii and Western Canada via 17 distribution centers, but also to enhance the parent corporation’s efforts to become more environmentally sustainable. The company’s supermarkets operate under various regional brands—Safeway as well as Vons, Randall’s, Tom Thumb, Dominick’s, Genuardis and Carrs.

Keeping this large and far-flung grocery empire stocked in a timely manner is accomplished, according to vice president of transportation Tom Nartker, through an approach best characterized as being “decentralized operationally but centralized strategically.” He explains that the fleet’s vehicles are spec’d at headquarters and strategic direction is provided to fleet management in the field, who are responsible for hiring drivers.

Nartker points out that for some five years now, the fleet has been applying Lean Six Sigma approaches throughout the operation. “We use these tools to improve the process of transportation to better our performance and to drive out waste—anything that has no added value—to lower operating costs.”

The fleet currently numbers 970 tractors and 3,950 trailers (over 90% of which are reefers) driven by 1,525 company drivers. Duane Woods, director of transportation operations, reports the fleet ran 92 million miles in 2010 delivering 536,000 truckloads equaling 11 million tons of product and made 1.44 million store delivery stops.

The tractor fleet is mainly made up of International ProStar daycabs, but recently Safeway has added some Volvo VNL daycabs as well. “Periodically, we decide to split out these purchases a bit, this time to review changes in engine technology,” Nartker advises. “Some of the Volvos have Cummins engines, and a few have Volvo engines integrated with the I-Shift automated transmission. We want to see what impact an automated transmission has both on fuel efficiency and attracting drivers versus the upfront acquisition and maintenance costs to get a true picture of the total cost of ownership before we spec more.”

While there are no EPA SmartWay-verified daycabs to select from, the fleet does have SmartWay-approved tires “all around as well as side skirts on our trailers.” As for reefer units, Safeway began purchasing only Carrier Vector hybrid-electric units. “These units have a single belt to run the water pump, and there are fewer maintenance items than with a standard reefer,” notes Woods. “And we are launching an initiative so we can use shore power to run these when parked.”

About two years ago, Woods led a Lean Six Sigma “cube improvement” process that resulted in a significant boost in payload and fewer outbound trips. “From a 2006 baseline,” he explains, “we have realized a 20% improvement in ton-miles per gallon and reduced over 35,000 outbound trips for the fleet in 2010 alone.”

The fleet’s newest mission, according to Nartker, is to be heavily engaged in “reverse logistics” in support of Safeway’s environmental-sustainability program. “Our fleet is picking up recyclable product of all sorts from our stores and transporting it to our distribution centers for consolidation. From there, it is taken to large recycling operations.” He says there is “some revenue” derived from these backhauls, but the focus is kept sharply on how much sustainability can be positively impacted. “It’s all about doing the right thing for the environment.”

Runners-Up:

Delhaize Group U.S.
Salisbury, NC

Its Hannaford fleet operation saved over 220,000 gals. of fuel by making both equipment and operational changes.

Meijer
Grand Rapids, MI

This grocery fleet has cut miles run despite serving more stores, makes extensive use of biodiesel and thoroughly trains drivers.

2011 For-Hire Winner

2011 Private Winner

2011 Vocational Winner

Vocational
City of Seattle
Seattle, WA

The City of Seattle’s Fleet Services Div. either directly or in partnership manages all the vehicles of the municipal departments and utilities that fall under the purview of the government of the 24th largest city in the country by population (563,374 people), according to Dave Seavey, director of fleet services. Fleet Services operates vertically across the municipal departmental table of organization, designating a fleet coordinator who manages each department’s fleet or, in the case of two utilities—Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities—co-manages heavy-duty vehicles in partnership with fleet executives.

Within the city departments proper, the coordinators are charged with asset management of the rolling stock of some 4,000 vehicles, everything from purchasing cars and trucks to vehicle maintenance and ultimately disposal. “Each department’s point of contact for fleet-related matters is their coordinator,” explains Seavey. “This way, the direct communication is there for them to know what we need from them and they need from us.” Helping keep the proper focus on each individual piece of equipment in the highly mixed fleet—that runs the gamut from Prius sedans to fire engines to Class 8 trucks—is aided by having each vehicle set up on its own lifecycle program, points out Seavey.

But what is most impressive about the City of Seattle fleet is how far it has gone green in just a few short years since the city determined in 2002 that greening the fleet should be a key part of its efforts toward environmental sustainability.

That initiative led to creating a full-time fleet coordinator position—this one charged with aiding city departments in meeting sustainability goals in the fleet arena. Before the position became full time in 2008, it had been a “half-time” slot filled by a coordinator who spent the other half of the time working for the Western Washington Clean Cities Coalition. “By the time that person moved on,” says Seavey, “the value in turning it into a full position was realized and in 2008 we hired Chris Wiley to be Seattle’s first green fleet coordinator.”

Wiley works across departmental lines to advise city departments at the operational level about what vehicles and/or specs can be ordered to improve the city’s sustainability footprint. “Before Chris came onboard,” says Seavey, “a lot of the departments were doing a lot of [green] stuff, but having this position fully staffed made it possible to take a systems approach and consolidate the entire effort” to make it more structured and cost-effective.

“We have a lot of executive-level support,” says Wiley, who explains the greening of the fleet began formally in 2003 with the writing of a “Green Fleet Action Plan” and in 2007 “we put more teeth into it.” Much of Wiley’s role is to work with the various aforementioned fleet coordinators to bring in such green vehicles as hybrid and electric cars and work trucks and widen the use of biodiesel.

“Some real operational decisions had to be made along the way,” Wiley relates, “especially around the use of diesel as we had purchased many gasoline-powered vehicles in the past. But we made the leap to purchasing as much diesel-engine-powered equipment as we could to gain fuel efficiency, longer life and gain the ability to fuel with a sustainable biodiesel created from waste oil right here in Seattle. Still, all this created a need for a big shift in thinking. Yet it has been accomplished.

“We’re still operating under the revised 2007 green-fleet plan,” he continues, “but we have actually grown past its milestones; the city-wide plan will be updated next year.” Wiley contends that much of his job involves educating the various departments on what changes they can make to vehicles to foster sustainability, and he reports the resulting decisions have included “right-sizing” vehicles for the job and adding more hybrids.

Runners-Up:

Republic Services
Phoenix, AZ

Waste-management fleet cited for extensive use of alternative fuels and sharp focus on safety in its operations.


Clean Harbors
Norwell, MA

Provider of environmental, energy and industrial services, it has been honored for the safe transportation of chemicals .

2011 For-Hire Winner

2011 Private Winner

2011 Vocational Winner