Meet the Fleet

Max Kvidera | March 01, 2011

Cost Conscious

R.E. West pays close attention money-saving factors such as oil change intervals, aerodynamics and reduced idling

In 2005, with truck costs and fuel prices rising, long-haul carrier R.E. West began examining how it was doing business and how it could reduce costs. The old ways of doing things didn’t pencil out like before.

Cascadias compose almost half of R.E. West’s fleet. Many of the company’s drop-deck van trailers maximize cubic feet.

Averaging 150,000 miles a year per truck, the Nashville, Tenn.-area truckload carrier was on a 4-year trade cycle, says President and CEO Bob West. But he found fewer takers for 600,000-mile used trucks. To get around that, the company pared the trade cycle to 44 months, which led to a more appealing mileage for buyers of about 500,000 miles.

In recent years, though, used truck values have fallen. The worth of a 4-year-old truck had dropped from $42,000 to around $20,000, West says. The solution was to extend the trade cycle for new trucks that had gone up 50 percent in price over five years.

“We don’t know” what West’s trade cycle is now, he says. “We’re in a position now where we don’t have to get rid of the truck like before. We’re thinking we’re going to get at least seven years or maybe get out of them in six years.”

When West began buying Freightliner Cascadias in 2008, his goal was to increase fuel economy to 8 mpg. The company [also] has earned U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designation as a SmartWay carrier.

West says his family-owned business is able to retain the trucks longer because of a better handle on costs. One example is oil-change intervals. West’s truck maker of choice, Freightliner, recommends 50,000 miles between changes. By consistently doing oil analysis, the company has extended the interval to 70,000 miles and may stretch it to 80,000 if the readings stand up.

Another way the company saves on engine wear and fuel usage is by running auxiliary power units in its fleet of 120 tractors. Five years ago when West had its first APU installed, its average idling rate was 46 percent. West thought he could reduce that to 10 percent, and the company did even better — cutting the rate to 2.5 percent at its best. Now the rate is 3 percent, and the average APU idles about 1,750 hours annually, saving three-quarters of a gallon of fuel per truck every hour, he says.

When West began buying Freightliner Cascadias in 2008, his goal was to increase fuel economy to 8 mpg. Over the course of buying 53 of the aerodynamic Cascadias, West has averaged 7.5 mpg, through modifications such as shortening the wheelbase by about a foot, reducing the gap between the truck and trailer to 41 inches, installing super-single tires and lowering the truck height to 46 inches at the fifth wheel.

An estimated 75 percent of West’s business, running the continental U.S. states and Canada, involves high cubic-foot loads in drop-deck van trailers, such as shoes, water heaters and insulation. “Most truckload freight haulers want palletized, shrink-wrapped and no-touch freight,” West says. “We look for freight that’s floor-loaded and that you have to touch. We solicit business that needs lots of cubes.”

West pays lumpers to handle loads, but if they’re not available, a West company driver will earn added pay of about $35 an hour to do it. West drivers — the company doesn’t work with owner-operators — earn pay ranging from $36,000 for an average first-year driver to $50,000 for a second-year driver to $80,000 for top pay.

“We tell drivers we hire there are three things that are important to us — be on time, get along and be safe,” West says. “Those are important to us because we are customer-driven. We do what our customers want.”

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