MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — Walmart Canada is rolling out the prototype of an innovative new tractor-trailer in Ontario this week that has the capacity to deliver up to 40 percent more freight to its network of stores throughout the province.
The pilot 60-foot, 6-inch truck-trailer combination was delivered on Monday night, and on Tuesday was parked outside the Delta Meadowvale Hotel and Conference Center in Mississauga, where the JOC’s Canada Maritime Conference is being held this week.
If it proves successful in Ontario, where the giant retailer has the road permits to operate it, Walmart will apply for permits to operate the truck in every Canadian province and perhaps roll it out in the U.S. at some point, Andrew Ellis, senior vice president, supply chain and logistics for Walmart Canada, told conference attendees.
The experimental truck has 28 percent more capacity than a traditional 53-foot trailer and can carry 40 percent more freight when a “drome” or belly box that fills the wasted space between the trailer’s wheels is included. The prototype tractor-trailer also uses wasted space behind the tractor cab for cargo storage. The only drawback is that it’s more difficult to load and unload cargo in those areas.
“We took existing trailers and re-engineered them to provide a more innovative way to transport goods. It’s a very simple idea,” Ellis said. “You can’t take it everywhere, but it creates efficiencies in provinces where regulations have been revised.” The pilot trailer has the same turning circle as a traditional 53-foot trailer and has the same highway weight except when hauling liquids.
Ellis said Walmart Canada is focusing on innovation and sustainability as it expands its network of stores throughout the country. The 2-year-old distribution center for perishables in Balzac, north of Calgary, is an example of both goals the company is pursuing.
The Balzac DC, which utilizes hydrogen to refrigerate its warehouse, LED Lighting and such alternative energy sources as solar and wind power, is 50 percent more efficient than the DC in Mississauga built only two years earlier.
In line with the company’s focus on sustainability, the Balzac Fresh Food Distribution Center was built with recycled wood. By using hydrogen to refrigerate the DC wood, it is projected to save $4.8 million in energy costs during its first five years.
Balzac also uses hydrogen fuel-cell technology to power its entire fleet of 71 forklift trucks, a technology now being installed at two other Wal-Mart distribution centers in Cornwall, Ontario, and Bartlesville, Okla.
The Balzac DC is one of Canada’s largest refrigerated buildings with a capacity of 400,000 square feet. It is the primary hub for fresh and frozen food destined for 104 Walmart stores across western Canada.
Ellis said the company has to be innovative to sustain its progress as the fastest-growing retailer in Canada. “Our reality is increasing complexity,” he said, “more stores, more imports, increasing energy costs, more demands on infrastructure and longer distances from DCs to stores, which average 400 kilometers.” In addition, an aging driver pool is making it harder to find drivers to haul freight over these long distances. “Getting people to drive for us is a problem,” he said.
Walmart Canada, which was launched in 1994 with the acquisition of 122 Woolco stores, now operates more than 330 retail stores in Canada, including traditional discount stores and Supercenters, which have more than 1 million customers per day. It has 73 store projects planned for 2012, of which 30 are kicking off in the month of November. It acquired Zellers last year and now operates 28 Zellers conversions under the Walmart banner.