Truck dealers and fleet managers need to work together to smooth maintenance on complex trucks so the industry can continue to grow, Philip Byrd, 2014 chairman of the American Trucking Associations, told an audience at the American Truck Dealers’ annual convention in New Orleans on Sunday.


“Dealers need to provide timely diagnosis and repairs, and fleets need to respond in a more timely manner to requests for approval for repairs,” said Byrd, who is also president and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express, a truckload and less-than-truckload carrier based in Charleston, S.C. 


Use of EDI – electronic data interchange – by both parties is one way that communications can be speeded, he said. EDI can also take much work and time out of warranty approvals, but only if fleets and dealers cooperate to develop and implement common standards.


OEM dealers also need to work with their builder representatives on establishing realistic labor rates in shops, Byrd added.

The driver problem

Advances in technology, including collision-avoidance and accident-mitigation devices, can enhance safety and efficiency and enable trucks and drivers to carry more freight, he said.


“There’s a lot of talk about intermodal and that more freight is going on the rails, but currently trucks carry 68.5% of tonnage while rail intermodal carries only a tiny part – 1.7%,” he said. “We project in 2024 trucks will carry 70% of tonnage.”


All signs point to a continuing improvement in the economy, and trucking needs to expand to carry more freight. But growth is in danger due to a looming driver shortage, and that will be difficult to solve because “drivers are disrespected everywhere they go,” he said.


Veteran drivers are retiring and it’s estimated that 239,000 new drivers will be needed by 2022, but few young people are interested in becoming truck drivers.


“How many of you in this room want your children or grandchildren to become a truck driver?” he asked the audience. No one said yes. “See – that’s a problem we have to address.”


Later he told a reporter, “Not one hand was raised in the room. It’s that way everywhere I go. We need to do something about that. People don’t realize that some drivers today can make 75, 80, 85 thousand dollars a year. We need to make that known.”


To the dealer principals and managers in the audience, he commented, “You have your issues with technicians, but I submit that our driver issues will affect your dealerships and your ability to sell trucks.”