In many ways, these are great times for the U.S. trucking industry: As the economy continues to rebound, freight volume continues to grow – and 70 percent of all domestic cargo continues to move by truck. This means more opportunities for trucking companies, which have also benefited from declining diesel prices of late (as prices at the pump hover between 15 and 20 cents lower per gallon than this time in 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration).
But this shimmering silver lining does hide a few clouds for the industry. The driver shortage continues to be a major challenge – an aging workforce and turnover hovering around 90 percent, leaving fleets in need of tens of thousands of new drivers just to fill open positions.
The scarcity of experienced drivers is putting upward pressure on wages. Fleet Owner has reported a steady series of major carrier driver pay raise announcements – Swift Transportation, U.S. Xpress, and Con-way Truckload, among others. Recent surveys show the majority of fleets planning some compensation increase.
Under these conditions – higher labor costs, bigger freight demands – as well as the continuation of tougher ‘hours of service’ limits on long-haul carriers in place since last summer, fleet productivity is essential. Every hour a driver is on the road, the carrier’s investment in pay, recruitment and fuel needs to be paid off by maximizing the number of customers served and deliveries made.
The Allison TC10™ automatic transmission is a breakthrough in productivity and fuel efficiency for Class 8 tractor fleets, especially those that mix highway travel with delivery or multi-terminal distribution. The TC10’s torque converter and powershift capability gets the engine into lockup faster and eliminates power lags during shifts. It allows a less experienced driver to accelerate quickly and smoothly, with easier handling to navigate through stop-and-go traffic (and less downtime due to clutch or driveline maintenance).
This performance comes with enhanced fuel economy, with Allison’s FuelSense® system automatically shifting the powertrain into its most efficient operation for each phase of the duty cycle. Recent customer testing showed that two-thirds of Class 8 fleets achieved at least a 3 percent improvement in fuel economy with the TC10 and FuelSense over manual and AMT competitors – and these up-front savings don’t reflect the total value of more productive routes, less maintenance expense and the potential for enhanced driver recruitment and retention.
This edition of Automatic Insights will feature several first-hand accounts of fleets cutting costs and getting more work from every gallon of fuel and hour of wages. The recurring theme? When productivity equals profit, Allison’s TC10 automatic transmission is the answer for Class 8 fleets.
IndyCar racing team Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) has worked with Allison Transmission since 2011 to ensure the team’s transportation is reliable, comfortable and fuel efficient. Allison began its sponsorship during the year of the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500, a special milestone given company founder James Allison’s role in creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Allison’s namesake company – now on the verge of our own 100-year anniversary – has grown into the world’s leading manufacturer of automatic transmissions, while the Speedway earned a global reputation as a mecca of motorsports. But in Allison Transmission’s partnership with the SFHR team, history takes a backseat to the fast-paced demands of today’s IndyCar circuit.
Racing schedules are often tight and do not allow for much down time during travel, making reliable transportation an essential component to every successful race team.
“Reliability is above most important. That’s sort of the basics to what we are doing,” said Indy Car team owner and former driver, Sarah Fisher. “If you can’t get the transporter there and all the equipment, you’re not going to be productive, and you’re not going to win. In order to have that, we need reliability, and Allison has been great to support us with that.”
Since the racing team travels great distances to events across the United States, another important factor for calculating transportation costs is fuel consumption. The jump in diesel prices over the last decade have strained balance sheets for all fleets, including motorsports teams, and any chance to save on fuel costs allows the team to focus funding towards other areas of racing.
“From a race team perspective, everything comes down to budgets and numbers and operational costs, so if we can save on fuel long term, that allows us to spend that money somewhere else and put it back into the team,” said Drew Coomes, director of marketing for SFHR.
Because the team can’t afford to waste time or fuel, the Allison TC10™ provides an excellent balance of powerful acceleration, smooth handling and fuel efficiency. The ease of automatic performance also reduces wear and maintenance costs, cutting downtime and unscheduled ‘pit stops’ for the team’s tractor due to clutch repairs or driveline issues.
Not only is the team able to count on the Allison TC10 transmission for its high level of reliability and fuel efficiency, but the transportation manager as well as Fisher recognize the added value of a higher level of driver comfort associated with the fully automatic transmission.
“Driver comfort is always important whether it’s in the seat of an Indy car or driving the truck all the way to California from Indianapolis,” Fisher added.
“We had a brand new International ProStar with an Allison 10-speed in it. The thing was awesome all the way out here,” said Wayne Selman, transportation manager for SFHR. “It rode smooth, shifted nice. The only thing I couldn’t get used to was looking for the clutch and looking for the gear shift instead of just the buttons.”
Based in Fredericksburg, Va, J.F. Fick, Inc. is an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler and distributor that has been using Allison transmissions for nearly 35 years. The distributor started running two ProStar tractors with TC10™ transmissions to serve the company’s transportation needs from breweries to the warehouse in June 2014.
When Ken Higgins, director of wholesale operations at J.F. Fick, was given the opportunity to work with Allison Transmission’s newly released TC10 transmission this past June, he jumped on the chance. After working with Western Branch Diesel, he decided the TC10 was just what he was looking for.
“I’ve been waiting for this transmission for years and years,” Higgins said. “The engineering and the program that Allison put together is something I wanted to try, and I’ve been extremely happy with it.”
The TC10 was designed to maximize efficiency and performance in both highway and in city driving, which helps the drivers at J.F. Fick be more productive with a smoother ride as they travel among breweries and warehouses.
While Higgins has noticed an improvement in fuel economy with the TC10, he attributes his overall satisfaction with the TC10 transmission to driver happiness and Allison’s smooth take-off.
“We couldn’t be happier with the TC10 from a driver standpoint,” Higgins said. “The drivability and take off with the TC10 are incredible. It is very smooth and does great for our drivers. We’ve used the Eaton UltraShift, and it doesn’t compare to the Allison.”
Startability and driver comfort are among the top reasons that customers are finding satisfaction with the TC10 along with the inclusion of FuelSense®, the set of unique packages of software and electronic controls that improves fuel economy without sacrificing the smooth acceleration and performance that help drivers get the most out of every hour on the road.
“I’ve been in this business for a long time, and I have seen it all,” Higgins added. “I haven’t always been a solid fan of automatic transmissions, but the TC10 has changed me. For someone like me to be impressed with a transmission says a lot about it.”
According to ACT Research Company, the trailer industry has good reason for holiday cheer as we count down the final weeks of 2014: Commercial trailer orders showed “record demand” for new equipment in October, per ACT’s latest ‘State of the Industry: U.S. Trailers’ report. Nearly 50,000 net orders for the month represented an amazing 90 percent year-to-year increase…and it’s not just a monthly aberration, as year to date volume is up 57 percent.
The economic rebound and booming freight shipments are pushing fleets to make record-breaking investments in new equipment. (Overall, new orders for Class 5-8 trucks reached nearly 68,000 units in October.) But for trucking executives, the challenge remains – how to get the most out of newer, bigger fleets, and keep long-term operating costs (the total cost of ownership) under control?
The Allison TC10™ is an up-front investment that pays off over the life of a new trailer by attacking the major expenses that add up on fleet balance sheets. According to ATA analysis, fuel still represents 38 percent of the annual cost of operating a Class 8 truck – but as described in the first story, the TC10 with FuelSense® features achieves fuel economy savings along with the performance of an automatic transmission.
But even greater than fuel are the combined costs of driver pay and benefits along with truck maintenance – adding up to 43 percent of annual expenses. Offering the ease of an automatic transmission allows fleets to appeal to a larger pool of prospective drivers, reduce training expenses, and avoid driver-related repair issues like clutch burn-up and driveline shock. It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of fuel consumption is influenced by driver habits; the smooth performance and shift schedule optimization offered by the TC10 with FuelSense makes the typical driver more efficient and productive.
Allison customers notice the difference. Gregg Mangione, Vice-President of Maintenance Services with Penske Truck Leasing, understands the impact of widely-varied driver behavior and the collective magnitude of lifetime maintenance costs in Penske’s 12,000+ vehicle fleet.
“When we look at our trucks, every decision is about adding value or reducing maintenance costs,” Mangione said after a recent trip in a TC10-equipped tractor. “With the TC10, you get much better control for potential maintenance savings.
“It (the TC10) cruises on the highway with very low RPMs, staying in 10th gear over inclines,” he added. “But it’s most noticeable from a stop-and-go standpoint: With a [competitive automated manual], you wait for the truck to work through the gears or get very pronounced downshifting, while the TC10 is just a much more driveable experience.”
Recent surveys show a pronounced shift to automatic transmissions industry-wide. As trucking companies continue to add trailers to modernize their fleets and accommodate growing freight volume (and the ‘just in time’ demands of today’s customers), the TC10 is a smart specification to maximize their return on investment over the long haul.