Low-floor vans are like the household goods trailers that Kentucky specializes in, but without the belly boxes and side doors. Freightliner single-rear-axle tractors are driven by teams.

Low-floor vans are like the household goods trailers that Kentucky specializes in, but without the belly boxes and side doors. Freightliner single-rear-axle tractors are driven by teams. 

Zenith Global Logistics, which hauls and delivers home and hotel furnishings across much of the nation, needed more capacity. So its managers looked around and rediscovered low-floor, high-cube van trailers that the fleet used 20 years ago.

They ordered 14 units from Kentucky Trailer. The 53x102-inch vans have thin walls and their floors are nearly 2 feet lower than normal vans. That adds about 600 cubic feet of capacity to a van, says 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 says in explaining the operation, whose long-haul tractors are speed-limited to 68 mph to balance velocity 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.

Last fall, the company added 30 regular-floor Utility 53x102-foot vans to its fleet to further support an increase in shipping volumes.

“We can’t backhaul with them” because the low floor precludes forklift loading, Hawn says. “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 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. They are going into service as they’re delivered. With Detroit DD15 diesels and DT12 automated manual transmissions, the ones now operating get above 9 mpg, Hawn says.

“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.”

A ZCube resembles household goods vans that Kentucky specializes in, but without their belly boxes and side doors. 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.

The ZCube design is not new, he observes.

“I grew up in this business, and this is what we used 20 years ago,” Hawn says. 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.”

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