Fleet Management

The 2016 Truck Fleet Innovators

Meet some of trucking’s best and brightest leaders.

March 2016, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge and David Cullen

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When TransWay decided it was time for the 100-truck fleet to become a leader in fuel economy rather than a follower, Randy McGregor rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
When TransWay decided it was time for the 100-truck fleet to become a leader in fuel economy rather than a follower, Randy McGregor rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

Small fleet, big ideas

A 6x2 driveline for a Michigan-based fleet that operates primarily in the Northeast and central U.S.? Randy McGregor raised a few eyebrows with that spec, just one part of an aggressive program to improve fuel economy.

TransWay operates about 100 power units and about 300 trailers, 95% dry van and 5% flatbed. A couple of years ago, high fuel prices forced McGregor and other company officials to the realization that they needed to do something drastic to modernize the fleet in order to stay competitive and reduce the fleet’s environmental impact.

“The first thing we did was look at where we were and where we needed to be, and asked, ‘How can we be a leader in the industry rather than a follower?’” recalls McGregor, who started his career in automotive maintenance and worked at car and truck dealers before moving to TransWay about five years ago.

As a result, in just two years they moved from fuel economy in the sixes to the mid 9-mpg range, and are closing in on 10 mpg with the newest trucks.

As the fleet manager, McGregor was the one who had to handle all the testing and thought put into new equipment specs, identifying technologies that worked for the fleet and those that didn’t.

Randy McGregor Fleet Manager TransWay Inc. Holland, Mich.
Randy McGregor Fleet Manager TransWay Inc. Holland, Mich.

“It also took some bravery to make large capital investments into new technology – and some that may not be new but also not widely accepted, especially in our region’s climate, such as moving to 6x2’s on all new equipment,” McGregor says.

Some of the other specs include tractor aero, low-rolling-resistance tires, automated manual transmissions, no-idle heat and air conditioning, adaptive cruise, Detroit’s Intelligent Powertrain Management and torque management. Trailers saw the addition of low-rolling-resistance tires, side skirts, Stemco Trailer Tails and Meritor tire inflation systems by PSI.

But they didn’t stop there. The company also added safety specs such as collision mitigation systems with active brake assist, roll stability control and enhanced stability control, and air disc brakes.

“While some of the tech is new and some is old, getting the correct combination and getting it all to function together is the real challenge,” McGregor says.

The 6x2 is a prime example.

“Because of where we’re located in Michigan, we get a lot of snow, and traction is probably the biggest downside people quote about 6x2s,” he explains. But he put together a combination of specs and training that worked. Through the snowiest period of the winter last year, McGregor says, 95% of the company’s two bills were 6x4s. only 5% were 6x2s, despite them making up about 40% of the fleet at the time (Today it’s about 60% 6x2s.)

Then there were the tires. McGregor wanted fuel-efficient SmartWay-designated tires, but they are not all winter-friendly. Another challenge is tire wear. “6x2s wear through drive tires much faster. so you have to re-evaluate your tires, finding one that wears well, provide traction and are fuel efficient. A comprehensive tire program helps make sure tires are maintained for long life.

TransWay didn’t forget the driver role in fuel economy.

“What we’ve done is take the approach of educating the drivers,” he says. “Knowledge is golden. By laying out the math of what we spend in fuel and how it affects the company as a whole, and multiplying it out across 100 trucks rather than looking at just one truck, they start to understand it.”

Drivers understand the idea that the company can reinvest those savings in higher driver wages and newer, more comfortable equipment.

“Also, since humans are inherently competitive, each week we send out messages listing the top drivers for fuel economy and encourage the others to try to get to that point.”

Drivers get hands-on training on the fuel-economy features of the new-spec trucks. For instance, when it comes to 6x2s, “you do have to drive them differently,” McGregor says. “In a 6x2 in low traction conditions you can’t be real aggressive on the throttle.” In trucks with automated manual transmissions that have a creep mode, drivers are taught to use it in low-traction situations because the computer actually  has a finer throttle control. 

TransWay uses Meritor ECAS suspensions to automatically transfer weight off the tag axle to the drives in low-traction situations. However, they also incorporated a manual switch that allows the driver to make that switch ahead of time, say when they’re trying to start up and get out of a snowy situation, so drivers can avoid creating a slippery patch or hole under the tires that’s harder to get out of.

Data has been a key part of the transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles, allowing McGregor to track which truck specs are showing the most fuel improvement. Data and connectivity are also key in other ways.

For instance, TransWay was one of the first fleets to use OnCommand remote diagnostic from International. While he also uses other OE-proprietary diagnostics/telematics services, he says OnCommand allows him to view all makes under one umbrella.

“It’s a great tool that we use to improve efficiencies,” he says. “We can see repair trends, failure trends, we can get so much more information. Is that engine light critical? Do we need the driver to stop the truck or not? There’s so much data there we use to our advantage to try to keep trucks moving and prevent breakdowns.”

He was able to get the chance to try out that program because of a relationship with the man at Navistar in charge of the OnCommand Connection program, and McGregor stresses that having a good working relationship with people at OEMs and suppliers is invaluable. Some might think that only very large fleets can have those type of relationships, but he says that’s not true and has some tips:

“First, you must believe and act like you are just as important of a customer as the guy is that has thousands of trucks. The OEMs and suppliers depend on all customers to make their business successful. They can’t put all their eggs into one basket, that’s just not good business sense. “Second, don’t be afraid to contact and talk to people at all levels of the companies. Your time is just as valuable as theirs is.

“Third, once you make those contacts, have good open conversation. If you have a problem, tell them and discuss it professionally in an effort to work together for a solution. If you have the problem, chances are others do as well. A lot of times OEs can draw off of the knowledge of those that have closer contact to drivers and the equipment due to being smaller in size.  Once you get this open dialogue going back and forth, you may be surprised how much you talk, how valued your opinion is, the inside information you get and sometimes even get to test stuff out before others get to see it.”

Comments

  1. 1. Jack Underwood [ March 16, 2016 @ 08:35AM ]

    Deborah and David,
    Thank you for sharing your research on these industry leaders in innovation. More forward thinking by key people in the world of trucking will continue to move the industry and thus the U.S. economy forward. Keep up the great work!
    Regards,
    Jack Underwood

  2. 2. William [ August 23, 2017 @ 07:06AM ]

    Gerry cut the maintenance department in half and quadrupled the driver call time. Great job!

 

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