MEXICO CITY -- For some people in the United States, say "Mexican trucking company" and they envision ramshackle trucks, drivers who are reckless and fleets that don’t care about safety.
They've likely never been south of the border to see what the operation of a Mexican trucking company really looks like.
A visit this week with the truckload carrier Transportes Monroy Schiavon, headquartered in Mexico City, revealed they are as professional as many of their U.S.-based counterparts -- and struggle with many of the same issues as carriers do north of the border.
Since its founding in 1979, TMS has grown from one truck and one driver to the 16th largest trucking operation in Mexico, with more than 500 power units. That's huge by Mexican standards, where only 100 trucking companies in the country have more than 100 power units.
Among its customers are household names such as Walmart, Proctor & Gamble, ExxonMobil and others. It works with several U.S.-based fleets in moving cargo between Mexico and the U.S., including Con-way, USA Truck, Landstar, Schneider and Celadon.
TMS Director of Commercial Operations, Laura Mandujano Valdes, stressed in a meeting with reporters that one of the biggest challenges it is facing is one that U.S. carriers are dealing with: finding qualified drivers.
“We believe drivers are our main asset,” she explained. “Our goal is to find professional drivers, not someone who wants to be a rebel.”
She said TMS’ recipe for finding qualified drivers involves checking prospects’ backgrounds going back five years, which is also done at the request of many customers.
In addition to making sure they have the proper licensing, the company also monitors the health of drivers each and every time they leave out from a company yard by having a nurse give them a brief exam and signing off they are healthy to drive. TMS says it also has established a maintenance program, legal support for drivers and security measures.
“Drivers are bad about believing they are supermen and nothing bad will happen to them,” she said.
The company says it is extending its driver-centered approach to using technology to aid drivers. This strategy includes upgrading equipment, including employing high security measures such as satellite tracking. It also includes using new technology on its trucks through its purchase of Volvo’s VNL models, with most every one coming with the company’s propriety I-Shift automated manual transmission.
In fact, TMS has gotten the first trucks in Mexico with Volvo’s I-Shift transmission. When the delivery is completed, it will make TMS 100% Volvo when it comes to fifth-wheel-equipped trucks. Currently TMS also runs about three dozen Class 8 straight trucks from other truck makers, which it plans to keep.
Valdes says the addition of the I-Shift automated manual transmission is being done for many reasons. One of the biggest is driver comfort. The company believes the more comfortable a driver is, the better he or she will perform on the roadway. It's also being done for the sake of efficiency, or more specifically fuel efficiency. TMS says automated manuals clearly outperform pure traditional manuals.
Such concerns about the driver have led TMS to have a turnover rate that would make any long-haul fleet in the U.S. jealous: 25%. The overall Mexican truck fleet turnover rate is 60% to 70%. Currently, the annual turnover rate is around 100% for big truckload carriers in the U.S.
Of course, things aren't perfect at TMS or other Mexican trucking operations. TMS has problems with cargo thefts and fuel thefts, but it said such incidents are lessening.
According to Valdes, TMS plans to stay focused on buying new technology to improve its bottom line, rather than resorting to paying drivers less in a competitive market.