Meet the Fleet: Meeting challenges

Since 2004, Davis Express has become a Kenworth fleet, focusing on aerodynamic and fuel-efficient tractors such as the T660.

Regional carrier Davis Express sees safety, emissions, recruitment and fuel costs as major hurdles

Like most fleets, Davis Express is confronting uncertainties that range from CSA 2010 regulations to accommodating new engine emissions requirements to recruiting good drivers. And for good measure the price of fuel is trending higher than in recent months.

“There are a lot of changes happening right now,” says Josh Davis, a vice president with the family-owned regional carrier based in Starke, Fla.

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety program has been delayed, Davis is still focusing on the fleet’s safety performance and the impact it will have on insurance coverage and rates.

On the equipment side, the company is still evaluating the full thrust of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements to reduce engine emissions, but Davis knows costs will be higher. The carrier is testing two Kenworth T660s outfitted with Cummins 2010 technology and will test another Kenworth tractor with a Paccar MX engine. Initial results show improved fuel economy of 0.5 mpg over pre-2010 equipment.

Davis Express drivers can monitor fuel usage on a screen within the T660 dashboard’s Driver Information Center.

Davis Express maintains a fleet of 230 tractors, all but 10 of which are Kenworths, about evenly split between T660s and T800s no older than 2005. The shift to more aerodynamic power units is to save fuel — Davis estimates mpg at 6.4 for the T660s compared with 6.2 for the T800s.

Other fleet fuel-conserving practices in place since 2007 include limiting tractor top speed to 65 mph and equipping all with auxiliary power units. The trucks automatically shut down after five minutes of idling.

The company began buying Kenworths solely in 2004 after trying used models in the 1990s. “The cabs held up exceptionally well, and the trucks were built exceptionally well,” Davis says. “Even with a million miles, they’re still in good shape.”

Davis’ 380 refrigerated trailers and 20 dry vans haul fresh and frozen meat, produce and grocery items for top retail chains in the Southeast. The company runs between meat processor plants and store distribution centers and transports processed produce items from Florida, as well as imported fruit. With so many dedicated customer runs, Davis is able to limit deadhead miles to about 20 percent of total miles. Each truck averages about 125,000 miles annually.

Founded by Davis’ grandfather with a solo truck in the early 1970s, Davis Express formerly ran all over the Southeast and to such locations as New Jersey, Texas and Illinois transporting dry and refrigerated products. About eight years ago, the company decided to concentrate on a smaller geographic area and freight focus. “Now we’ve brought it back to a few states and a hard focus on regional refrigerated,” Davis says.

“We intentionally go after that harder refrigerated freight such as fresh poultry,” Davis says. “It’s not easy for everybody to do it. It takes a lot of attention to detail, ensuring temperatures are correct.” There’s often a great deal of wait time at processing plants before the company tries to “get it to warehouse” as quickly as possible.

Davis says the company aims to offer “premium service, and that requires a premium driver,” one who takes care of company equipment like it’s his own and pays attention to his surroundings. The company is recruiting drivers with at least two years’ experience over-the-road in the past seven years without “a lot of fender-benders and tickets on his record.” Turnover has held steady at about 85 percent, Davis says.

Driver dress code includes no open-toed footwear or sleeveless shirts. Shorts are OK but should not be ratty looking. Drivers should be clean-cut.

For drivers with at least five years’ experience, pay begins at 42 cents a mile and increases to 44 cents for 10 years’ experience, plus a penny-a-mile safety bonus. Drivers can earn an extra 2 cents a mile for taking days off in the middle of the week and driving on weekends, Davis says. On top of that, $15 for each retail stop and $25 for each distribution center stop that isn’t the first or last of the run add to the benefits.