Green Fleets: Maximum incentive

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One of Mesilla Valley’s new International ProStars pulling an aerodynamic trailer with side skirts.

Despite the blue paint coating most of the Mesilla Valley Transportation’s tractors, a particularly deep shade of green colors the company’s entire diversified van freight operation, based in Las Cruces, N.M. Its driver incentives for improved fuel economy are virtually unmatched in the industry. “We give away a Harley bike every quarter,” says company CFO Dean Rigg. “You can only win it once, but when you do you’re in the running for the year.” The annual winner drives off with a whopping $25,000 cash.

“All the drivers who win the Harley are in the 8 mpg range,” says Rigg. In addition to the Harley prize, the 8 mpg Club is one whose membership is predicated on achieving that fuel mileage for a quarter. If a driver is in that club but doesn’t win the Harley, a $500 bonus is his or hers for the taking. In the second quarter of this year, Rigg says, “we had 75 drivers in the 8 mpg Club.”

That’s some accomplishment for a fleet of less than 700 tractors. Green equipment helps, of course, Rigg says. “We do a lot of different things.” From fixed fifth wheels and wide-single tires to 450 tractors newly equipped with APUs, Rigg adds, “we’re doing a lot of things that nobody else is doing. We’re doing trailer skirts, too, now.”

Those modifications have translated to a fleet-wide fuel efficiency that tops the 7 mile-per-gallon mark. Rigg doesn’t want to be too specific, he says, because that efficiency has been a great competitive edge for a good while now, “even before we joined SmartWay.” The company finally formalized its green initiatives earlier this year by signing on as a SmartWay Transport Partnership member. They were doing OK without it, but Rigg credits membership in SmartWay with greater marketing muscle with shippers.

“The shippers want it,” Rigg says. “They all want to be green, particularly the Fortune 500 companies. If you’re part of SmartWay and have a 1.25 score or higher, that naturally attracts more freight in the current market.”

This past March Cascade Sierra Solutions, an Oregon-based nonprofit, helped Mesilla Valley get some of the government subsidies available to fleets and owner-operators looking to invest in green equipment. Mesilla Valley in turn took delivery of 300 SmartWay-certified 2008 International ProStar tractors and subsequently outfitted the lot and 150 other trucks in the fleet with either Carrier Transicold’s ComfortPro generator-type auxiliary power unit or Bergstrom’s battery-powered NITE System.

“We’ve been getting their fuel economy data,” says CSS CEO Sharon Banks, “and we’re getting it directly from their fuel-data manager every quarter. Every quarter so far they’ve improved. And it takes 100,000 miles for these engines to really achieve their best fuel economy.”

Rigg calls the greening of Mesilla Valley’s operation an unqualified positive for the company. “The less fuel consumption there is, the better off we all are. The less the demand for fuel, the lower oil prices will go.” To that end, the company is building a 5 million gallon capacity biodiesel plant in El Paso, Texas, to create its own biofuel from a variety of feedstocks.

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