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 the trucking industry.

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 they face.

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 Eleventh Annual Fleet of the Year Awards.

For Hire

Nussbaum Transportation

Normal, IL
 
While expanding in recent years from a regional to a nationwide carrier, Nussbaum Transportation has not lost sight of what made it a successful operation in the first place— paying close attention to customer needs and employee concerns, especially those of its drivers. “Our motto is ‘Setting New Ideas in Motion,’ and that sums up our approach to managing the fleet,” says Phil Braker, vice president of operations. 

“We spend a lot of time figuring out what we can do to help our customers by being innovative,” he continues. “That involves everything from saving them money by having the most fuel-efficient fleet out there to developing trailers in-house for specific requirements.

We also must be innovative in our approach to drivers. Staying on top of what they need from us is working. Our turnover rate is just 27%, which is down from 34% last year.”

Founded by Alden Nussbaum with a single truck in 1945, the company is still family-owned, headed by CEO Brent Nussbaum. Nussbaum Transportation is now a 48-state operation providing truckload, dedicated contract carriage and third-party logistics services to a diverse customer base engaged in such industries as automotive, agriculture, construction, steel, tire, paper, food and consumer goods.

The fuel efficiency Braker speaks of comes from continually reviewing specs and keeping an eye peeled for new innovations. For its latest purchase of 120 tractors (the fleet runs some 200 trucks), it opted for aerodynamic Freightliner Cascadia sleepers powered by Detroit 15L diesels. “We bought heavy in ’07 ahead of the emissions changes,” Braker advises. “In 2010, we jumped in pretty heavy with testing because there was said to be a fuel economy gain with those engines, which there is.”

Going beyond engine efficiency and stock aerodynamics, Nussbaum has done everything to boost mpg—from switching to wide-base tires, installing Andersen Flaps’ Eco-flaps on both tractors and trailers, reducing fuel tanks from 150- to 124-gal. capacity, eliminating left-hand spot mirrors and sun visors on tractors, and relocating license plates on trailers to cut drag.

The fleet is also installing ATDynamics’ TrailerTails and Transtex side skirts on the majority of its 450-trailer fleet to further improve aerodynamics. “Once [the devices are] paid for, they’re saving you money from there on out,” Braker says. He estimates a 14- to 15-month payback for the devices on trailers expected to be run for 10 years.

To eliminate deadhead miles and make loading/unloading more efficient for appliance-maker Electrolux, Nussbaum approached Wabash National to build a hybrid dry van trailer. Dubbed the X-Duty, this double-duty trailer is ruggedized to support loads 50% greater than a typical van. It’s used inbound to haul steel coils to Electrolux for use in manufacturing freezers. Outbound, it cubes out with new freezers headed to market. Rolled out in 2010, there are now 25 X-Duty trailers in service.

Nussbaum innovation is also amply applied to keeping drivers satisfied and motivated, whom CEO Brent Nussbaum regards as “the backbone of our business” and therefore should be provided with “the means for an enjoyable, comfortable lifestyle.” There are about 230 company drivers as well as 30 owner- operators. Braker reports that company drivers enjoy a weekly minimum guarantee, consistent weekend home time, late-model trucks (average age of two years or less) and trailers, complete medical benefits, a company-matched 401K program, referral bonuses, and performance-based quarterly bonuses.

The carrier recently implemented a 1¢/mi. pay hike for company drivers as well as loading/unloading pay increases and added an “East Coast Premium.” Three other pay increases came through in the past year, including a switch to “practical miles” to more closely match paid miles to actual routes. “Beside pay,” Braker observes, “we believe it is crucial that our drivers feel they are a part of our team and not just a number. That relationship will be especially important to maintain as we continue to grow.”

For Hire Runners-Up

J.B. Hunt

Lowell, AR

Industry giant's long-term intermodal strategy continues to deliver the goods while paying large dividends. 

Mesilla Valley Transportation

Las Cruces, NM

Retrofitted fleet of 4,000 trailers with aerodynamic devices to save a million gallons of fuel annually.

Private

Frito-Lay Inc.

Plano, TX

The private fleet operated by Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo Inc., runs 310 million mi. annually to deliver over 900 million cases of snack food products each year. “Our private fleet is a key component of our direct-store delivery system and enables growth and exceptional service levels within our supply chain,” advises Helen Stephens, senior director of transportation. “Our fleet ensures we provide our customers and consumers with the high-quality snacks they expect from Frito-Lay.” 

Getting Frito-Lay’s over 30 brands of popular snacks—including Fritos, Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos and Cracker Jack—to market is accomplished via 28 traffic centers; more than 175 large distribution centers; more than 1,300 small distribution centers (bin facilities) nationwide; a fleet comprising some 1,300 tractors, 3,800 trailers, 3,300 box trucks; and more than 13,500 Class 2-3 delivery trucks.

According to Mike O’Connell, senior director of fleet, Frito-Lay specs all its trucks. The majority are company- owned, with some units on lease occasionally. Maintenance is mostly performed in-house at over 475 maintenance locations that employ 350 technicians.

At the wheel for Frito-Lay are 1,550 tractor-trailer drivers and over 20,000 delivery truck drivers. One of the innovative changes Frito-Lay has embraced is the conversion of many of its Class 6 medium-duty box trucks to all-electric power. To date, 280 electric trucks have been put into service, including 100 added just this year. Going green has not only garnered laurels for Frito-Lay’s environmental leadership, but is saving the company a significant amount in fuel costs.

“The electric-vehicle (EV) program has been a big win for both our fleet goals and for PepsiCo’s overall environmental sustainability commitment,” O’Connell reports. “Frito-Lay’s entire EV program has made a significant impact to our operation by eliminating more than 700,000 gals. of diesel fuel and 12 million tons of GHG emissions annually.

“The EVs are a very visible part of our overall fleet sustainability strategy, and we are also committed to other sustainability programs as well,” points out O’Connell. “For instance, we’re deploying compressed natural gas (CNG) tractors, with 81 set to be on the road by the end of this year, and 100 more planned for 2013.” The CNG units will be run on shorter hauls and he notes that Frito-Lay is building its own fueling station in Beloit, WI, but will partner with public fuel providers at other locations.

“We also continue to deliver significant reductions in fuel usage through technology, business processes and most importantly, our highly engaged driver, fleet and administrative teams nationally,” O’Connell adds.

“Frito-Lay has applied lean-management processes throughout the entire organization with great success,” points out Stephens. “The transportation and fleet operations have evaluated many aspects of the business where the principles of lean management have been applied and then used these learnings to enhance our fleet.”

“Some examples of how lean management has informed fleet decision-making,” remarks O’Connell, “include switching to single-axle tractors, improving rental trailer management, and reducing tire and vehicle repair and maintenance costs.”

As for drivers, turnover, including retirees, at Frito-Lay is roughly 50% lower than the average private fleet rate.

Another example of lean management concerns how Frito-Lay has continued to leverage its centralized TMS system to optimize the network for the past 12 years. “Each year, we refine and enhance the optimization to continue to drive cost out of the network,” explains Stephens. “Part and parcel with that, in the past year we have implemented a new onboard computer system that we have integrated into our optimization, planning and automated driver payroll systems as well. And as part of our dispatch planning system, our drivers leverage an online bidding tool and can receive text or email messages with their awarded runs.

“We strive to leverage advances in modern technology to further enhance processes and tools across the operation,” sums up Stephens, “to ensure our fleet is always providing the best possible service.”

 

Private Runners-Up

Verizon

New York, NY

Telecommunications provider has invested heavily in alternative-fuel trucks, including helping design new electric vehicles 

Air Products

Allentown, PA

Provider of gases and chemicals established a cross-functional driver wellness team that extends to involving drivers' families

Vocational

Ozinga Ready Mix

Chicago, IL

Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete Inc. operates its truck fleet with eyes wide open to the present and the future. A subsidiary of Ozinga Brothers Inc., a concrete company founded in 1928 now in its fourth generation of family ownership, Ozinga Ready Mix runs about 500 ready-mix trucks and related service vehicles out of 33 plant locations and several other terminals. The fleet delivers ready-mix concrete to construction firms, public projects and homeowners in the Chicagoland area as well as into northwestern Indiana and southern Michigan.

Ozinga had not purchased any mixer trucks after 2006 due to the weak economy.

That changed in the fall of 2011 when the company felt the “time was right,” advises Tim Ozinga, co-owner and director of communications for Ozinga Ready Mix Concrete. When the fleet decided to order 14 new units for its fleet of Kenworth, Mack and Oshkosh trucks, Ozinga didn’t just replace aging equipment— it typically operates a mixer truck for 10 years—but eyed the purchase from every possible angle.

“Before spec’ing the trucks, we looked at everything that we wanted to accomplish,” says Ozinga. “We wanted to contribute to reducing our country’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our company’s environmental image by cleaning up emissions from our mixers and reducing their noise output, and lower our fuel costs.”

Considering that list of near-term and beyond goals, the fleet opted to buy its first trucks fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG). That order of 14 trucks plus 16 more purchased this year are all Kenworth W900S models fitted with McNeilus Bridgemaster mixer bodies. The mixer trucks are powered by 8.9L Cummins Westport ISL G engines and spec’d with 6-spd. Allison 4500RDS automatic transmissions.

“Since we were aware that city officials were working to cut emissions from trucks that operate in downtown Chicago, we placed all of our new CNG trucks in operation there to have the greatest environmental impact,” points out Ozinga.

“These trucks also run quieter than comparable diesel-powered units and customers have commented positively about that,” he continues. Ozinga says the lower noise output is a significant benefit when delivering concrete in residential neighborhoods as well as at public sites in the city.

There is yet another green dividend from the new trucks. “More and more homeowners and small businesses are looking to source their concrete from companies that can demonstrate a commitment to a greener operation,” Ozinga remarks.

While the fleet’s environmental impact was a key driver in selecting the CNG-powered KWs, so was the potential for natural-gas power to drive down Ozinga’s fuel costs and further its goal of helping cut down on the use of imported fuel.

“The cost of natural gas has been consistently less than diesel for us, from $2 to $2.50 less per diesel gallon equivalent,” points out Ozinga. As a result, the fleet expects fuel cost savings to repay the added cost of CNG technology engines on each of the trucks within 2.5 to 3 years.

“These trucks have been so successful,” relates Ozinga, “that if the business climate continues to improve, our hope is to over time transition the whole fleet to CNG.” Ozinga Ready Mix’s own CNG time-fill fueling station came on line early this year and was opened to outside fleets in September. The fleet plans to add more stations at its highest- volume locations.

“We’re always looking to do things better and stay ahead of the curve,” Ozinga adds. “Our CNG efforts reflect how we strive to be a leader in our industry.”

 

Vocational Runners-Up

Farmers Oil

Anthony, KS

Growing bulk transporter invests heavily in safety equipment, such as disk brakes, and technology for managing parts inventory

O&G Industries

Torrington, CT

Regional construction firm boosted utilization with launch of special projects team to serve smaller, leaner faster projects