With fuel costs skyrocketing and the economy in a slump, private fleets need all the help they can get to make sure their companies recognize the value they bring to the table. That reality got serious acknowledgement at the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) annual conference April 27-29 in Cincinnati, where the association rolled out a number of new and enhanced efforts.

“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 to more than 900 members in attendance. “That's why events like these, where you can share ideas and network with your peers, [are] so critical. For you never know when an idea may be found to help solve a problem your company faces.”

Petty noted that NPTC 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 industry leaders to see where they can make improvements across a range of metrics, from driver recruiting and retention to fuel economy and maintenance costs.

He also mentioned that NPTC will take a fresh look at the size and weight issue ahead of the next highway funding reauthorization bill. The group will fund a study with the University of Michigan 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. That study began late last month with UMTRI looking at one NPTC fleet member company's internal report on how larger trucks would impact its operations. That work may serve as a guide for the larger study. NPTC will be selecting participating companies this month with the study expected to be completed in November, Petty said.

The parameters to define efficiency improvements will focus on over-the-road operating costs, cargo transported, miles traveled and safety performance. It will also include a measure of fuel use, emissions output and truck trips that are required to fulfill the individual companies' annual transportation responsibilities, Petty noted.

On another front, NPTC has created a new Fleet Optimization Center in collaboration with C.H. Robinson Worldwide. This exclusive and free service to NPTC members only gives them access to a team of C.H. Robinson specialists who can analyze NPTC members' fleet backhaul programs and help reduce deadhead mileage, which Petty said averages 28% for private carriers annually.

“We already work with private fleets; this program formalizes and expands that effort,” says Eric Jax, branch manager for C.H. Robinson's national carrier group. “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.”

Finally, NPTC will 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 September 2009 (based on safety data compiled this year) where drivers will be nominated based on customer service, personal appearance and cleanliness of equipment, on-time delivery, and safety.

Much of this work will be done under the auspices of Ron Tartt, NPTC's new chairman for the next two years and general manager of the private fleet for Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC, the Fleet Owner private fleet of the year award winner in 2006.

Tartt will serve with Rick Foster, director-private fleet safety for Wal-Mart Transportation LLC, as vice chairman; Gary Strausbaugh, vp-transportation for Mennel Milling Company, as secretary; and Michael Parrish, national accounts sales executive for Paccar Leasing Co., who stays on as NPTC's treasurer.

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