Trailer Talk

High-Cube Vans Bolster Fast Carriage of Big, Bulky Items

Low floor adds 600 cubic feet to a van's usual capacity.

October 16, 2014

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There's no belly box, but floor is 2 feet lower than on a normal "straight-floor" van. Unlike household-goods vans, there are no side doors. 
There's no belly box, but floor is 2 feet lower than on a normal "straight-floor" van. Unlike household-goods vans, there are no side doors.

Low-floor, high-cube van trailers are among the tools being put to work by Zenith Global Logistics, which hauls and delivers home and hotel furnishings across much of the nation. Built by Kentucky Trailer, the 53-by-102-inch vans have thin walls and their floors are nearly 2 feet lower than normal vans.

The low floors add about 600 cubic feet of capacity to a van, said Jack Hawn, Zenith’s president and CEO. He and his colleagues at the firm’s headquarters in Conover, N.C., call the design “ZCube Max Capacity.”

“We’re in the business of hauling big items fast,” he said in explaining the operation, whose long-haul tractors are speed limited to 68 mph for a combination of speed and safety. The trailers carry furniture, lamps, rugs and other products among six hubs across the southern tier of states. Three more hubs are planned for the Northeast.

From hubs, most deliveries are to business clients, but Zenith also has straight trucks for home deliveries. Last fall it added 30 regular-floor Utility 53 by 102 vans to its fleet to further support an increase in shipping volumes.

Freight is big, bulky and light with gross combination weights typically at 45,000 pounds, so the ZCube trailers are pulled by single-rear-axle tractors. The latest of those are Freightliner Cascadias with long sleepers for long-haul team-driver operation. Two are now running and 12 are on order. With Detroit DD15 diesels and DT12 automated manual transmissions, they get above 9 mpg, Hawn said.

Because most North American tractors have tandem rear axles, resale value of the unusual single-axle tractors is questionable, he said. So Zenith is leasing the first tractors from Penske. Zenith plans to run them 240,000 miles a year and turn them in after three years. Penske can determine what a tractor’s residual value is, and Zenith can make better plans for ownership. It normally sells its used equipment outright and is not overly concerned about resale.

Low floor is interrupted by wheel wells and step-up at the trailer's nose. So ZCube trailers don't backhaul. 
Low floor is interrupted by wheel wells and step-up at the trailer's nose. So ZCube trailers don't backhaul.

A ZCube resembles household goods vans that Kentucky specializes in, but without their belly boxes. Its low floor is interrupted by wheel wells and a rise for the nose that’s supported by the tractor. Cargo is hand-loaded, like household goods, because that’s what a lot of the items are.

“We can’t backhaul with them” because the low floor precludes forklift loading and unloading, Hawn said. “If we showed up at a shipper with one of them, they’d scream. The reason they work for us is that we use them to haul between our hubs.”

The ZCube design is not new, he observed.

“I grew up in this business, and this is what we used 20 years ago,” Hawn said. The need to backhaul general commodities swung operators toward “straight-floor” vans, so a return to the low-floor van “is back to the future.”

Single-rear-axle Freightliner tractors are sufficient because loads are light, though resale is an unknown.
Single-rear-axle Freightliner tractors are sufficient because loads are light, though resale is an unknown.

 

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

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Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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