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In the world of trucking, there’s good, there’s better, but nothing beats ‘robust’

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The good folks at Kenworth were very excited a couple weeks ago about the official introduction of their new W990 model. Who could blame them? This is the heir apparent to the W900 series, a superstar of the trucking industry since the Kennedy administration.

It was such a big deal to them that they flew 16 of us trucking journalists to Las Vegas a couple weeks ago and put us up overnight in a nice hotel just so we could bear witness to the great unveiling.

The gesture wasn’t lost on me, nor was the fact that they rented out the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the night as the setting for the W990’s debut. During the reception, they even arranged to give guests free rides around the track in supercars driven by professional racecar drivers.

Kenworth was pulling out all the stops for this one. Still, it felt like something was missing.

After dinner, we all went outside for speeches and a video that made the W990 look like a bona fide movie star. Then came the big moment, as eight shiny new W990s paraded out under dramatic lighting and boisterous rock music. The production was like a cross between Fashion Week in Paris and the introductions at an NBA championship game.

It was a doozy of a rollout, and yet, I was still waiting for that one element that would put this celebration over the top.

The next morning, Kenworth took us to a local dealership where we could experience the W990 up close. As I sat in a conference room between test rides, I listened to Kenworth General Manager Mike Dozier talking with a couple of my colleagues.

That’s when he evoked the magic word that in trucking signifies all that is truly magnificent.

The W990, he said, is “robust.”

The entire trucking industry is hopelessly in love with the term “robust.” It’s a vague term, but it has become the most coveted all-purpose compliment that can be paid to any product, any policy, any industry trend.

Look how many times you can find the term in this or any trucking publication. That new tire doesn’t just promise dependable performance, it promises robust performance. That carrier isn’t just offering substantial signing bonuses, they’re offering robust bonuses.

I get it. “Robust” is one of the most virile of adjectives. Just hearing it makes you feel like going out and chopping some wood. Is the industry experiencing healthy growth? That’s nice. Substantial growth? Good to hear. Robust growth? Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about!

You hear “robust” and you imagine a dude with a booming voice and so much muscle he can’t even button his shirt all the way up. Then again, I’ve also heard that “robust” is just a diplomatic way of saying, “he’s fat, but he has real good posture.”

The actual dictionary definition is pretty broad, but it’s more in line the first image, so it’s no wonder trucking executives and the PR flaks they hire spread “robust” around like testosterone-laced fertilizer. Trucking is still mostly a man’s world, and what guy, even the most enlightened, sensitive, 21st-century type guy, doesn’t like to feel a little jolt of “robust” now and then?

You may not have even noticed. Maybe it’s a writer’s thing, but to me the endless “robusts” are like the person sitting next to you who won’t stop drumming with their fingers or snapping their gum. It makes me want to shout – but to who? – “Hey, there are approximately 42,869 adjectives in the English language. Try another one for a change.”

Whether it’s cheesy (but effective) manipulation or unconscious redundancy, who knows? Maybe they are suckers for the “robust” rush themselves. In any case, I’m pretty sure this is something I’m going to have to learn to live with.

But thanks for hearing me out. See you back here in two weeks or so. Depending on when  you read this, here’s hoping you and yours have/had a safe, happy – and above all, a robust – Halloween.

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ACT Research: Freight rates and trucker profits pressured In 2019

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ACT Research’s report indicated that at present the slowdown seems to be more a story of the second-half 2018 order pull-forward and large backlogs, and less about freight cycle and capacity issues. (The Trucker file photo)

COLUMBUS, Ind. — While overall economic conditions are better balanced than they were a month ago, freight data remain soft, according to ACT Research’s latest State of the Industry: Classes 5-8 Report.

“Slower freight growth, an easing of driver supply constraints, the resumption of the long-run freight productivity trend, and strong Class 8 tractor fleet growth will increasingly pressure rates, and by extension, trucker profits in 2019,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT Research’s president and senior analyst. “Regarding Class 8, orders have decelerated sharply over the past several months, with net orders in January reaching 16,089 units, the lowest monthly order intake since October 2016.”

The report indicated that at present the slowdown seems to be more a story of the second-half 2018 order pull-forward and large backlogs, and less about freight cycle and capacity issues.

Regarding the medium duty markets, Vieth said, “January’s Classes 5-7 net orders were a virtual carbon copy of December, at around 23,000 units, and medium duty orders have been a model of consistency the past ten months. However, they are entering a period of tough year-ago comparisons.”

ACT Research is a publisher of commercial vehicle truck, trailer, and bus industry data, market analysis and forecasting services for the North American and China markets. ACT’s analytical services are used by all major North American truck and trailer manufacturers and their suppliers, as well as banking and investment companies.

More information can be found at www.actresearch.net.

 

 

 

 

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Stay Metrics introduces new indicator for trends in early-stage driver turnover

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This chart shows that approximately 60 percent of the more than 3,000 drivers from 89 carriers hired in January 2018 did not make it one year with their carrier. (Courtesy: STAY METRICS)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Stay Metrics, the leading provider of driver retention tools, has released a new indicator for trends in early-stage driver turnover.

The new Stay Days Table serves as a “survivor” chart that shows the number of drivers hired by carriers each month and the percentage remaining at specific milestones after their date of hire —30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc.

This table allows Stay Metrics to follow specific cohorts of drivers and to show how well carriers are retaining them over time, according to Tim Hindes, Stay Metrics co-founder and CEO.

As the table makes clearer than previous models, early driver turnover is a massive, industry-wide problem, Hindes said, noting that approximately 60 percent of the more than 3,000 drivers from 89 carriers hired in January 2018 did not make it one year with their carrier.

Retention trends seem to have remained consistent throughout the year so similar results are expected for each month’s cohort.

Hindes said the statistics come at a time when the driver shortage is of critical concern to motor carriers.

According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2018 Top Industries survey, the driver shortage is the No. 1 issue faced by carriers.

Unsurprisingly, driver retention is also high at the No. 3 spot.

Together these concerns are causing significant problems for even the best carriers in the industry.

They work exceptionally hard to find drivers in today’s market. If 60 percent of these drivers leave within one year, the driver shortage is not just an issue; it is a crisis, Hindes said.

“We believe the new Stay Days Table demonstrates the depth and pervasiveness of the early driver turnover problem. Our clients consistently beat industry averages for overall retention and this is their Stay Days Table. It represents some of the best in the industry,” Hindes said. “With drivers leaving so early, the driver shortage cannot be effectively countered. Our current version shows data for 2018 and we plan to update the metric for 2019 and beyond to continue monitoring the industry’s progress.”

The Stay Days Table saw a slight increase in overall retention for drivers hired in September and later. One possible explanation is that these drivers wanted to avoid changing carriers during the holiday season, Hindes said, adding that the data from the next few months will show if these fourth quarter hires match other groups’ retention percentages when they hit later milestones.

 

 

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ATA tonnage index increases 2.3 percent in January

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Compared with January 2018, the SA index increased 5.5 percent. In 2018, the index increased 6.7 percent over 2017, which was the largest annual gain since 1998. (The Trucker file photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. — American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 2.3 percent in January after falling 1 percent in December. In January, the index equaled 117.3 (2015=100), up from 114.7 in December.

ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.

“After monthly declines in both November and December, tonnage snapped back in January,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “I was very pleased to see this rebound. But we should expect some moderation in tonnage this year as most of the key sectors that generate truck freight tonnage are expected to decelerate.”

Compared with January 2018, the SA index increased 5.5 percent. In 2018, the index increased 6.7 percent over 2017, which was the largest annual gain since 1998.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 113.1 in January, which was 2.9 percent above the previous month (109.9). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 70.2 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 10.77 billion tons of freight in 2017. Motor carriers collected $700.1 billion, or 79.3 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and subject to change in the final report issued around 5th day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons, and key financial indicators.

 

 

 

 

 

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