Commentary by Lou Gilbert – Director of North American Marketing & Global Brand Development
A private survey conducted for Allison Transmission by leading industry news source Heavy Duty Trucking shows a number of fleet executives recognize that automatic transmissions make driver recruitment easier. With the driver shortage becoming a crisis, Lou Gilbert argues that fleets can use the ‘automatic advantage’ to build the next generation of trucking professionals.
When freight moves, our economy grows – and there’s no question that the future of American commerce will unfold along the nation’s highways. Over the next decade, freight tonnage is projected to increase 20 percent, and the American Trucking Association (ATA) predicts that trucks will carry more than 70 percent of the total.
Trucking is our dominant mode of shipping commercial freight, the industry that literally keeps our economy moving. But we continue to confront a shortage of qualified drivers. Without jump-starting driver recruitment and retention, trucking firms can’t capitalize on the economic upswing. The resulting transportation bottlenecks will cause bigger headaches for companies and consumers everywhere.
We all know the problem. There are actually fewer truck drivers on the road today than before the recession; the ATA estimates at least 30,000 current openings. Turnover has been stubbornly stuck above 90 percent for two years, forcing fleets into a costly, perpetual churn of hiring and training.
While driver shortages are always an issue, today’s challenge is tomorrow’s crisis. The average U.S. truck driver is around 55 years old, meaning that retirements will thin the ranks of veteran drivers as freight demand grows. Some experts say the industry will need to attract more than 100,000 drivers annually just to keep up.
When talk turns to solutions, better pay and benefits are typically top-of-mind. Some firms are experimenting with flexible scheduling and matching drivers with preferred geographies, to help make trucking more ‘family friendly.’ There’s proactive career counseling for younger drivers, more intense outreach and communications. Fleet owners are even using social media to recruit the Millenial generation.
All of these tactics may pay off. But making trucking a more attractive profession starts with making current and potential drivers feel comfortable with the day-to-day realities of the job. That means comfort and confidence in their equipment.
Recently, Allison Transmission and Heavy Duty Trucking magazine partnered on a survey of its readers on driver recruitment and retention, focusing on equipment issues. Specifically, the questionnaire targeted fleet professionals who specify, approve or purchase new trucks and components (engines, transmissions, axles, etc.). It’s clear that the ‘driver experience’ is on their minds: 74 percent agreed that specifying truck components that increase driver satisfaction helped their companies recruit and retain.
When asked to name these components, the most common responses were air-ride seats, tilt steering wheels, electric windows and automatic transmissions, with satellite radio also gathering a number of mentions.
All of these make driving more pleasant – but the transmission affects the experience and practice of driving. Many survey participants agreed that it was easier to recruit drivers to fleets with automatic transmissions, and that these trucks were safer to drive. (Even among those who specified mostly manual transmissions for their fleets, more agreed than disagreed that automatics improve recruitment and safety.)
This makes sense through the eyes of a potential driver, or one with limited experience. It’s stressful to make the transition to operating heavy equipment. Safety and reliability are major concerns, along with unpredictable road conditions. Driving a fully automatic tractor-trailer is simply less daunting, especially when navigating unfamiliar routes off the interstate, getting into stop-and-go traffic.
To address these concerns while recognizing the industry-wide drive to cut fuel costs, Allison Transmission introduced the TC10® TS model, designed to provide the automatic experience for the tractor market with enhanced fuel efficiency (now including the availability of FuelSense).
Among those who agreed that automatic transmissions enhanced recruitment and safety, the recurring theme was that “automatics are easier” – easier to drive and therefore easier to recruit and train from a broader pool of potential drivers. Even among skeptics of the transmission’s impact on recruitment and retention, several comments acknowledged that automatic transmissions are more appealing to younger drivers.
The survey expressed wistful sentiment towards older drivers. Experienced drivers are the backbone of the industry, but as they leave the workforce and freight demands increase, trucking companies have to cast a wider net.
U.S. trucking has a bright future, and big opportunities, but only if it solves the driver shortage that continues to plague the industry. Truck driving already faces many occupational hurdles: training requirements, federal regulations, time away from home for long-haul drivers. As the economy grows, competition from construction and other industries with available jobs will make it even more challenging to find (and keep) the next generation of trucking professionals.
The market transition to automatic transmissions in the LTL (Less Than Truckload) segment has already begun, with several key fleets recently specifying Allison in their day cab tractors. In addition to fuel efficiency, the transition to automatic transmissions has also been influenced by increasing requests from drivers along with the desire of fleets to lower the barrier of entry into a driving career. Instead of shifting a 10- or 13-speed manual transmission, new drivers can completely focus their attention on the road.
Companies must look towards optimizing their fleets to broaden their pool of potential applicants and give young drivers a smoother ride into the profession. That may mean specifying equipment (including transmissions) with driveability as a top consideration.
The latest version of Allison Transmission’s Commercial Electronic Controls (CEC3) makes life easier and more efficient for mine and haul truck operators. Learn more about how CEC3 features save time and fuel here.
The latest version of Allison Transmission’s Commercial Electronic Controls (CEC3) makes life easier and more efficient for mine and haul truck operators. The CEC3 release features a remote oil sensor diagnostic that allows drivers to check oil levels from the cab, as well as an oil filter change indicator. It also includes two new pre-programmed shift schedules that provide owners greater flexibility to optimize performance and fuel efficiency based on vehicle weight, the grade of the terrain and other factors.
“Allison’s CEC3 upgrade is all about maximizing productivity and cutting fuel costs by adapting the vehicles to their working conditions,” said Chris Vargo, director of global off-highway marketing, sales and service for Allison Transmission. “And we’re also making life easier for drivers – a more convenient, time-saving oil sensor, and of course the control and handling of a fully-automatic transmission.”
The CEC3 system is being integrated into select models by OEMs, and features are being deployed in new vehicle throughout 2014. It also includes Shift Energy Management (SEM) and Optimum Start Range (OSR) features to maximize efficiency and an expanded J1939 capability for diagnostic messaging.
“Our CEC3 controls are designed to keep trucks working harder and smarter,” Vargo added.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a growing mode of public transportation across North America. In Mexico, Allison’s reputation for reliability and ease of operation is helping OEM Dina grow its share of this market – click here for more on how Allison’s performance in stop-and-go and express routes is helping Dina get the ‘green light’ for new BRT opportunities.
Allison offers a complete range of fully automatic transmissions and hybrid propulsion systems for transit and city buses, helping public fleets across the U.S. provide safe, reliable transportation – and a smooth ride – to millions of passengers every day. In stop-and-go transit applications, the uninterrupted power shifts of the Allison automatic make full use of the engine’s horsepower, getting the most out of every drop of fuel.
The same values of durability and productivity are earning Allison new opportunities in other North American markets. Recently in Mexico, Allison-equipped Brighter buses from Mexican OEM Dina earned an important foothold in the country’s growing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) sector.
Dina recently delivered 10 Brighter buses (standard with Allison’s B 500 model) to major BRT operators Optibus and Metrobus at Expo Foro 2014; five buses will be deployed in Leon, Guanajuato’s transit system by Optibus for lines 1 and 5, and five will serve Metrobus lines 1 and 2 in Mexico City. Dina has also received an order by Macrobus to deliver four buses in Guadalajara.
These initial sales are promising given the growing adoption of BRT in urban areas across Mexico. BRT, where buses run along fixed express routes (often in dedicated lanes) is seen as a way to expand public transportation and address growing environmental concerns from vehicular emissions while avoiding the massive infrastructure costs of light rail and other alternatives.
“Allison Transmission is proud to support Dina’s drive to meet Mexico’s need for sustainable public transportation through Bus Rapid Transit,” said Ricardo Tapia, director of Mexico for Allison Transmission. “BRT buses must be reliable and efficient, with a smooth, comfortable ride. Allison delivers on all of these demands.”
Operating large-capacity buses in dedicated traffic lanes, a single out-of-service bus can cause delays and disarray across an entire BRT system. Allison’s reputation for dependability and durability ease these concerns, while advanced diagnostic controls help operators anticipate routine maintenance needs.
Fully automated shifting also provides a smooth ride for passengers, without the power interruptions that cause jerks and jarring from manual transmissions.
“Bus Rapid Transit is a way to provide better public transportation service, reducing transit times and addressing congestion and pollution,” said Claudia Y. Gutierrez, director of sustainable transportation for Dina. “Dina, with a vision for sustainability, offers high-capacity rapid transit buses like our Brighter models, made in Mexico with a supply chain that includes global powertrain leaders like Allison Transmission.”
“Mexico faces many transportation challenges – Allison Transmission and Dina share a commitment to finding innovative solutions,” added Tapia. “We’ve built a productive relationship and look forward to many more successes ahead.”