US truckload carriers lure drivers with new trucks, technologies

US truckload carriers lure drivers with new trucks, technologies

In the struggle to hire and keep truck drivers, trucking companies increasingly are using new, highly sophisticated, fuel-efficient trucks with the latest safety technology as incentives.

They’re also throwing in the latest “aftermarket” devices -- such as satellite televisions -- to make those drivers that do spend weeks on the road more comfortable on their journey.

The result, these companies hope, will be more satisfied drivers who will stay with their employers, cutting turnover costs, and provide more sustainable, secure capacity to U.S. shippers.

Last year saw a surge in new truck orders by carriers, as faster economic growth and higher profits fueled replacement of older vehicles. The number of active Class 8 tractors on U.S. highways will rise 5.8 percent this year, reaching 1.43 million, according to ACT Research.

Many of those new Class 8 trucks are being designed with driver retention in mind.

Refrigerated truckload carrier C.R. England today said it would offer some of its “tenured” truck drivers 2016-model-year Western Star tractors with a host of advanced technologies.

The 5700 XE tractors will feature automated shift transmissions and safety features including forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise, and hill-start technologies, the company said.

“The adaptive cruise is so innovative and makes it easier to focus on being safe,” Zach England, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake City, Utah, company said after driving one of the vehicles.

The adaptive or predictive cruise control, which automatically regulates speed and braking, can also improve fuel efficiency per truck as much as 3 percent, according to Western Star.

The trucks are also designed with driver comfort in mind, with woodgrain and leather interiors, and while aerodynamic, the truck design still retains traditional, “rugged” Western Star features.

C.R. England will give its million-mile drivers and tenured solo and team drivers first dibs on the trucks, as well as owner-operators that lease equipment from the refrigerated carrier.

To improve the quality of  life on the road for its drivers, Western Express will install in-cab satellite TV systems, including 24-inch flatscreen TVs, in 1,600 tractors. That means truck drivers won’t have to rely on wifi or unreliable and expensive cellular data connections at truck stops.    

“Our drivers are on the road for 7 to 14 days on average, so we wanted to give them one of the creature comforts they have at home,” Robert Stachura, chief operating officer at the Nashville, Tennessee-based truckload carrier, said July 14. “There is limited parking at rest areas and truck stops, and it can be hard to get Internet access at those locations,” Stachura said.

“Everyone in the industry is trying to find ways to attract and retain drivers, and we feel that EpicVue in-cab satellite TV will have a positive impact on retention,” Stachura said.

In addition, “It’s something we can market to prospective drivers,” he said. “We believe it will raise the exit hurdles for drivers and pay for itself in better retention and lower recruiting costs.”

Western Star will install satellite antennas, DVRs and TVs in 150 to 200 tractors in its dry van and flatbed divisions per week, completing the rollout by September, the company said.

There's some evidence that trucking companies' retention plans, which include higher pay and benefits as well as more home time and better equipment, are starting to work. The American Trucking Associations today said driver turnover at large fleets dropped 12 percentage points to 84 percent in the first quarter, its lowest level since 2011.

"The drop in turnover was likely, at least partially, connected to a temporary slowdown in freight movements in the quarter, as well as improved retention efforts of fleets across the board," Bob Costello, ATA chief economist, said.

Contact William B. Cassidy at bill.cassidy@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc