Odyssey past 10 mpg to max efficiency, in more ways than one: Trucker of the Month Alec Costerus

user-gravatar Headshot

"The power demand, the power that's required to pull a truck down the highway ... the idea is to match the power that's produced by the engine to the power that's required." --Overdrive's May Trucker of the Month Alec Costerus on the bedrock principal behind achieving the best fuel economy

Alpha Drivers Transportation two-truck fleet owner and operator Alec Costerus launched the company just a couple of years ago from his Denver, Colorado, home base following about eight years trucking as an owner-operator leased to Landstar.

The ADT company runs two trucks today with authority, with company cofounder Joel Morrow behind the wheel of one of them. The other rig in the pair is piloted by Travis Lauer, an operator Morrow trained himself on driving for maximum efficiency. ADT's in part the result of Costerus and Morrow becoming fast friends after geeking out for years over how to achieve better trucking efficiency, both when it comes to the equipment and the business itself, for certain.

Longtime Overdrive Radio listeners have heard Morrow on the podcast, when he was part of panel including past Trucker of the Year Henry Albert, among others, at the 2022 MATS, all about spec’ing and driver practice toward getting to 10 miles per gallon and beyond.

Costerus himself turned heads among those in Overdrive’s audience about a month ago, detailing among the biggest parts of their success at giving themselves a big advantage over the rest of trucking when it comes to costs. 

Principal reason for the head-turning?

Their 10.5-mpg average for their 2023 Volvo VNL760, spec’d to Morrow’s liking with what Volvo’s calling the i-Torque spec. Morrow had a lot to do with that spec, and today, we’ll hear more of that story from Costerus directly, and how Costerus’ efforts in concert with Morrow have resulted in what’s certainly one of the most efficient owner-operator businesses around.

Howes logoOverdrive Radio's sponsor is Howes, longtime provider of fuel treatments like its Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel and Lifeline rescue treatment to get you through the coldest temps, likewise its all-weather Diesel Defender and Howes Multipurpose penetrating oil, among other products.Costerus, with 15 years or so in trucking now himself, after dissatisfying prior careers in commodity trading and financial services, is unique among Overdrive's Trucker of the Year monthly semi-finalists for other reasons, too.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers
The ALL NEW Rand Tablet
Presented by Rand McNally

For one, he’s mostly managing the now-two-truck business outside the bounds of a truck cab, by and large, though he does jump back behind the wheel moving ADT's mostly power-only loads when Morrow is called away to trade shows or the fleet’s other principal operator is down, and in other situations. Overdrive News Editor Matt Cole you’ll hear asking the questions throughout the podcast. Cole remarked early in his conversation with Costerus about the unique nature of the operation.

"A lot of people can drive and 'be a trucker' that way," Costerus said. Alternately, stick around a while, grow and learn and "you can take that experience and leverage it for the greater good, so to speak."

[Related: Fighting 'cheap freight' one load at a time: Get a real read on revenue, costs]

Costerus hopes to do just that with Alpha Drivers, with a push to show just what can be done to bring the next generation up with him -- not to mention other owner-operators of his own generation who may not realize all that is achievable with close management and energy directed to the right places. The owner's long experience over-the-road helps mightily. Critical for any trucking company owner, he believes: "that you actually know how the freight is moved, what the drivers endure, familiarity with hours of service, all of that. I think it makes us more efficient."

It’s a fine balancing act whether you're behind the wheel or not most days -- running a trucking business in pursuit of not only efficiency to contain costs but dealing with the demands of revenue and time management and training, playing guardian of the bedrock safety of the motoring public around you. Costerus is managing at a high level with his team at Alpha Drivers. Take a listen: 

overdrive trucker of the year 2024 logoOverdrive's 2024 Trucker of the Year program, sponsored by Commercial Vehicle Group and Bostrom Seating, recognizes clear business acumen and unique or time-honored recipes for success among owner-operators. Through October, we're naming Truckers of the Month to contend for the Trucker of the Year honor. Finalists will be named in December, and a winner crowned early next year. Nominations continue to be sought for exceptional owner-operators, whether leased or independent, throughout the year. Nominate your business or that of a fellow owner (up to three trucks) via this link for a chance to win a custom replica of your tractor and a Bostrom seat from Commercial Vehicle Group, among other perks.

Hear interviews with all five of our 2025 Trucker of the Year contenders thus far via the playlist below. 

[Related: 'I just love it out here': Joy, exacting analysis, effective insurance deliver Gary Schloo's success]

Transcript

Alec Costerus: The basic premise on fuel economy is that, the power demand. So the power that's required to pull a truck down the highway or to climb a hill or whatever, the idea is to match the power that is produced by the engine. To match the power that's required, you might run up a hill faster than what's necessary, and then you have to take your foot off the throttle because you're gaining on the vehicles in front of you. And then you have what are called changes of moment of inertia, which think of it as, okay, you know, you're throttling, then you're letting off, you're throttling, letting off, or, God forbid, you have to brake. so those moments of change, of inertia cost money.

Todd Dills: That was the voice of Alpha Drivers Transportation, two truck fleet owner and operator Alec Costerus, who launched the company from his Denver, Colorado home base with trucker Joel Morrow out in Ohio after the pair became fast friends with a bond over trucking efficiency, both when it comes to the equipment and the business itself. For certain, longtime Overdrive Radio listeners have heard Morrow on this podcast before, when he was part of a panel including past Trucker of the Year Henry Albert, among others, at the 2022 Mid America trucking show, all about spec’ing and driver practice toward getting to 10 miles per gallon and beyond. Alec Costerus turned heads among those in Overdrive's audience about a month ago, detailing how he and Morrow did just that, a big part of the success of what they've built with their Alpha Drivers Transportation company. Principal in that head turning a 2023 10.5 miles per gallon average for their 2023 Volvo VNL 760, spec’d to Morrow's liking with what Volvo is calling the I-Torque specifically. Morrow had a lot to do with that spec, and today we'll hear more of that story and how Costerus' efforts, in concert with Joel Morrow, have resulted in what's certainly one of the most efficient owner operator businesses in the nation.

I'm Todd Dills, and Costerus, with 15 years or so in trucking now himself, is certainly unique among our Trucker of the Year monthly semi finalists. Not just by virtue of Alpha Drivers hyper efficiency, he's mostly managing the now two truck business outside the bounds of a truck cab. By and large, though, he does jump back behind the wheel, moving the fleet's mostly power only loads when Morrow is called away to trade shows or the fleet's other principal operators down, and in other situations. Overdrive news editor Matt Cole, who you'll hear asking the questions throughout the podcast, remarked early in his conversation with Costerus about the unique nature of the operation.

Alec Costerus: Trucking affords a lot of, I guess, avenues. you're right in that, you know, a lot of people can, can drive and quote, unquote be a trucker that way, or you can take that experience and leverage it for the greater good, so to speak. And that's what Joel and I have done with Alpha Drivers. So, he drives still. he's going to Sweden in August. I may slip into the truck for a week. you know, we've done that before where I might be in the truck for a month. we did that last year. So it kind of depends what the needs are. But, I think what it's incumbent upon, you know, running a trucking company that, you know, you actually know how the freight is moved, what the drivers endure, you know, familiarity with hours of service, all of that, I think makes us more efficient. And so that's, I guess, a different tack as you said.

Todd Dills: Certainly a fine balancing act, as you all know, running a trucking business in pursuit of not only efficiency to contain costs, but the demands of revenue, time, playing guardian to the bedrock safety of motoring public around you.

Alec Costerus: Having driven over a million miles commercially, you know, when I get in the car just around town, I'm like, this scares the crap out of me.

Todd Dills: After the break, we'll pick up with Overdrive's May Trucker of the Month, Alec Costerus, who at this Alpha Drivers transportation company is now in the running for the Overdrive 2024 Trucker of the Year award, sponsored for the year by the fine folks at Bostrom Seating. You can enter your own or another deserving owner's business, too, via overdriveonline.com/toptrucker for a chance at the title, and a brand-new seat from Bostrom on top of it. After this word from Overdrive Radio's sponsor, Howes, we pick up with Costerus in conversation with Overdrive's Matt Cole. So keep tuned.

Speaker 3: Loosen rust, seal electrical connections, lubricate sticky valves, and more, all with Howes Multipurpose lubricator and penetrating oil. A century old secret family formula, Howes Multipurpose continues to outperform the competition. Lasting longer than any other product, Howes Multi lubricates without evaporation and is safe to use on almost any surface. Try it today and see the difference for yourself. Find Howes Multipurpose at Amazon.com and retailers nationwide.

Todd Dills: Find more information at H-o-W-E-S, Howesproducts.com.

Alec Costerus: I have a chemical engineering and geology degrees, from undergrad, I pursued my MBA at finance at University of Connecticut and university, of Virginia at the school of business there. I had a diverse background prior to trucking, having experienced some things that I found to be unpleasant, if not unethical on some of the business sides. We, all remember Enron. I was a commodity trader, during that time and, the movie smartest guys in the room about the Enron collapse. I was in the industry trading electricity and natural gas. So I could very easily identify with what they were doing kind of at the time. I was like, why are they doing, you know, this? and I couldn't figure it out. And obviously after the fact, we all figured it out, but, I didn't find that the ethics and the morals and the whole environment meshed with my own personality and my motivation. So, I got out of that, eventually went into financial services. That person who's, running that particular company, was convicted and sentenced to prison. And I thought, you know, I don't think I really want to work for other people anymore because I can't trust them. And that's how I ended up getting into trucking it back in 2010 to get my CDL, because I thought, okay, I can get my CDL, I can be the master of my own universe without having to deal with people whose ethics, and financial savviness didn't comport with mine. So I, like I said, got my CDL. my whole idea was to become an owner operator, which I did after two years. You know, back then you had. Before you could join, like Landstar, for example, you had to have two years of history under your belt. I think that has changed, since then. but, once I got my two years, I bought a truck, and then joined Landstar. I was with them for eight years. I had a medical issue, which I knew was coming. It runs in the family genetic mutation.

Todd Dills: That genetic mutation meant that Alec Costerus kidney function would be likely to decline swiftly at some point. When that really began to happen in a big way, he was able to get on the kidney transplant recipient list and parked and sold his Volvo to wait that out, taking on work with the US Postal Service in Denver almost four years ago now, in order to stay local and wait it out, the transplant opportunity came not long after, in 2021.

Alec Costerus: My decline was, in hindsight, pretty swift. I remember at the postal service climbing up a flight of stairs, which was like five steps to get into a warehouse. There were some days, Matt, I'd be hanging on that railing for dear life. And some days I could go up the stairs by twos. So you question, okay, am I getting old? Am I sick? What's the deal? I didn't think I was sick, but from where I am now to where I was then, now it becomes in the rear view mirror. It's pretty obvious, but it wasn't at the time.

Todd Dills: Coming together then with Joel Morrow to launch the Alpha Drivers transportation company would follow soon after. Costerus traces their business and personal relationship back to Morrow's association with LinkeDrive’s Pedalcoach app, which helps drivers achieve maximum fuel efficiency by allowing for self coaching of a fashion on best practices behind the wheel.

Alec Costerus: Well, you know, if you know Joel, you know, he's pretty geeky. and I'm no less so. So probably, ah, the first conversation we had, was with, we were introduced by the folks at pedalcoach. Joel, unbeknownst to me, had recommended me for their ambassador club. And so when I talked to pedal coach, they said, oh yeah, you know, do you know Joe Morrow? And I said, well, I know the name, but I've never spoken to him. So he gave me his contact information and I reached out because, you know, there are some things that email and texts, frankly, are not very good at. And I wanted to reach out and thank them personally. So we had a call, we had a first phone conversation was about tires rolling resistance. And then he threw in the word tractor, tractive effort and rolling slip, and torque induced slip. And I thought, holy crap, he actually knows what he's talking about. Concepts that I've never heard anybody talk about. And so I thought, okay, you know what? He knows something and I can learn from him and vice versa. So we talked geeky stuff for several years. And he had a medical issue right after, right before I did. And so we were kind of going through the recovery and we thought, what do we want to do when we grow up? I knew from the conversations that he had professionally outgrown his capacity at Ploger, which is a great company, very well run, probably the best run company operation, I think, period.

Todd Dills: Morrow had been a longtime company driver.

Alec Costerus: With Ploger, but it just didn't fit his personality and his capabilities because the guy is a genius. So, but where he's a genius, on some technical issues, he was, shall we say, lacking in some other areas as most geniuses type of thing are. And I frankly had outgrown Landstar. So I'm pretty adept on the business side, data organization and so on. So we thought, okay, if we do this, come together, I can run the office, all the back office type of things. He can focus on the technical side of things as well as delivering freight. so we form, Matt, two companies. We have Alpha Drivers transportation, which is our, I guess, more visible on road, freight transportation company. But we also have Alpha Drivers testing and consulting, where we consult with OEMs, Volvo being one, to be sure. and we worked, if you will, behind the scenes with their engineering folks and marketing, to hone some of their developments. So this I-Torque technology package that they have was really Joel's brainchild. He knew that they had, for example, crawler gears, they had the turbo compound engine, and they had faster, rear axle ratios. but putting all of those things together was the glue, where he realized all the various components and put it together in the package, which is now worldwide. And we can track with what we're doing. we have telematics, onboard both trucks. We're actually upgrading that, after this call, I have a call with the telematics provider, where we're upgrading our own capabilities internally so that we can grab more data, in service of Volvo, for example, on, some of the shift logics, working with the engine and so on, to make these trucks even more efficient. I'll give you an example. Joel, as everybody knows, and Travis, get among the highest, if not the highest, fuel economy, in the world. Joel does that through his understanding of, what's happening mechanically in the truck and leveraging kinetic energy as well as the gear loading and so on. So we are able to achieve higher fuel economy. So we work backwards, kind of reverse engineering, if you will, to make the truck do all of those things more automatically. So hopefully everybody can get ten and a half or 11 miles to the gallon, over the truck's lifetime. So basically making the trucks, I don't want to say idiot proof, but to the extent that they can achieve these kind of fuel economies automatically without any input from the driver, that is the goal. Joel is doing it, as is Travis now.

Todd Dills: Travis Lauer, operator in Alpha driver's second truck, a 2024 Volvo VNl 760.

Alec Costerus: … as is Travis now, with input. So the idea is to have the programming mimic what they do physically, so that everybody can get these great economies. Well, we have, three drivers, myself, Travis and Joel, and we have, two more in the. I guess, in the training phase, who will also join, probably running the trucks as. As team for a bit. We have still a third truck coming in the fall, one of the new gen Volvos. So, we may actually add another driver or two, to the rolls as well. But, we are still evolving. Well, Joel will get into the new gen Volvo. We may hire a driver to go into what the truck that we call blueberry. Or we may, you know, put one of the other people, as they become more experienced, put them in the truck. So we're a little bit in flux. as you probably know, it's not just putting any driver in the seat, because that's not really what we want. We want smart driver. so we decided that it's probably a better route for us to train our own drivers organically rather than hiring an experienced driver and then have to retrain them to drive smart. I don't know what the right path is necessarily, because we haven't done it yet, but, that's an internal conversation that we're trying to mull over.

Todd Dills: Regular overdrive readers have recently heard about the company's 2023 Volvo VNL 760, purple haze, which Costerus describes here.

Alec Costerus: Purple Haze is the 23 truck. with the I-Torque, it's a six by two configuration. And blueberry being the 2024 truck, it is a six by four. But, it's also an I-Torque. So the trucks are essentially identical, but for the fact that one's a six by two and the other's a six by four.

Todd Dills: Training is ongoing now through observation and coaching by both Joel Morrow and Travis Lauer in each truck, reflective of that training mission Costerus mentioned previously.

Alec Costerus: Just the way, you know, Joel trained, Travis, for example, we're, now we have Haley, in writing with, Joel, and we have Connor riding with Travis. So they are observing, you know, exactly how. How each of those guys are doing things so that they can. And it takes a while to master. So, both Haley and Connor, they have their CDL permits, but they don't have a CDL license yet. So for insurance purposes, we have them doing more of the, assisting and observation than the driving. so once they get their CDL, we're probably going to have to change insurance companies, because right now we have a pretty exclusive insurance company. But those two drivers don't meet their minimum threshold, so we'll have to make an adjustment that way as well. The basic premise on fuel economy is that the power demand. So the power that's required to pull a truck down the highway or to climb a hill or whatever the idea is to match the power that is produced by the engine to match the power that's required. So in basic terms, if the power produced is less than what's required, the truck is going to slow down. On the other hand, if the power produced is greater than what's required, the truck will either accelerate or waste fuel. So you might run up a hill faster than what's necessary. and then you have to take your foot off the throttle because you're gaining on the vehicles in front of you. And then you have what are called changes of moment of inertia, which think of it as, okay, you know, you're throttling, then you're letting off. You're throttling, letting off, or God forbid, you, you have to break. so those moments of change, of inertia cost money. So to the extent that you can run as steady as possible, the better the fuel economy. So, for example, when I'm dispatching the guys, we try to make it so that we have ample time to make the run with all of the required stops and the rest periods and so on, so that the driver can drive at a relaxed pace between 55 and 60. You know, I joke, you know, when I'm looking at the ETA, you know, because I can watch everything here live and I may have to call Travis and say, hey, look, I need you to put the hammer down and I need you to go 58. but, you know, all kidding aside, if it's required that you have to go, run hard and go 65 or 70 miles an hour, well, I guess there's a time, if you're getting paid a handsome rate, to do that, it might make sense. But what we found is we haven't really found an instance where it made sense to do that. So when, rates are really high, it makes sense. I've done it in the past myself when I'm getting paid a very handsome rate and I need to go 70 miles an hour. Okay, I'll do it. But in today's freight environment, with these rates, you know, running fast is just going to run you out of business quicker. So need to run fast only, when necessary and run as slow as possible.

Matt Cole: What kind of freight are you guys hauling, typically?

Alec Costerus: Well, in the past, we've run, furniture loads with a direct customer. but here's where strategy reared its ugly head. So when Travis, when we had just the one truck Travis ran team with Joel. So having our pulling our own trailer did not make sense. So we, haul a lot of freight for Schneider, where it's all power only, and a very large bulk of that was drop and hook at both ends. It might be a load, live load or unload, but there's always a drop and hook involved. So with that, we don't waste any time with a team, sitting at a loading dock, because that's just inefficient. If we can roll in at midnight, do a drop and hook and roll out and go get the next load, we're all for that. So that's what I mean by running efficiently and strategizing. so we're running smart, but not, frankly, not hard. that is a key to success. another key might be to do some specialized freight, when you have a team, there are high value loads that you are able to do, running long distance for certain customers that as a solo that just are not available. So what we've done is we've improved the quality of the freight by and get a better rate. We reduce our waiting time and we optimize our hours of service so that the truck keeps moving regardless of who's driving. So we've really hit on, frankly, three cylinders, if you will. that make us much more efficient. And that's what I think is missing in a lot of the marketplace where the guys just had an exchange on the Volvo Truckmasters Facebook group this morning and last night, where folks are complaining about the rates and the people barely surviving. Well, if you do what you've always done, it may be fine when rates were good, but if you keep doing what you've been doing all the time without adjusting to the market, you're frankly going to find yourself either agonizing and complaining that the rates are low and the brokers are scamming everybody and committing fraud, and the hours of service are terrible, on and on and on, when in fact, if they look in the mirror, they'll realize, hey, I'm not really operating smartly and strategically in this current environment. Maybe they need to make a change. And that was kind of what I was discussing in the article that appeared, recently in the overdrive magazine. We did start hauling for yet another carrier as well. So we've got Travis over at Schneider, we've got Joel, over at Arcbest running some of their dedicated lanes. again, that's another instance where, power only dedicated freight, higher rate. And so on. so, we're experimenting a little bit, to see what's a better fits. we're also diversifying. You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. So, we're doing that as well. We're trying out a couple things. so far, they have both been fantastic to work with. They pay very quickly, so we don't hang out there for accounts receivable for extended periods of time. So cash flow, of course, is at a premium. So, as well as risk mitigation in case somebody, goes under. Working smart is more important than working hard, in this environment. And so that's what we're trying to do.

Matt Cole: What lanes are you guys trying to stick to, for the most part?

Alec Costerus: Well, because both Travis and Joel, are based in Ohio. We're running probably, you know, Omaha would be as far west as we go, and I think we've only been there once, well, recently, I should say, all the way to, you know, Boston and, pretty much, Minnesota, all the way down to Laredo. if I was in the truck, my penchant is to run out west. Now, when we do, the furniture, that would originate in the upper midwest and that goes to the west coast. So, I think in 2023, we hit 44 states. So we do, in fact, go coast to coast, but our main footprint is, I would say, the eastern half. It's kind of a bane of mine existence that drivers are, for some reason, exempted from the motor carrier, exemption to the federal Labor Standards act, which excludes drivers from overtime for hours past 40. So it behooves us to put our money where our mouth is. So we pay a combination of things. So, we pay drivers, and both when we're driving, Joel, and I and Travis, we're all on the same pay plan where, we get, an hourly rate for all hours worked. So, from the time, a driver gets. Goes, on duty to do a pre trip in the morning until the time he does his post trip at night, he's working, he's away from home. He deserves to get paid. doesn't matter if he's driving or not. The old, saying, where if the wheels ain't turning, we ain't earning. That's a lot of bunk. Well, it's true, but it shouldn't be. So we honor that. so, for example, by being paid per hour, if a driver is in traffic, he still gets paid. If he has to shut down for inclement weather, he still gets paid. He's away from home, he's working. He's working on my behalf. He's representing the company. He deserves to get paid. He gets pulled into a dot. He deserves to get paid. He has to do maintenance, which thank goodness, our trucks are new and they have not broken down. So it's a wonderful thing. They get paid. They have to buy fuel. They get paid. Just because the wheels aren't turning doesn't mean that they're not working and on the job. they have to take a required 30 minutes break. That's required by law. They get paid. So we also pay ah, on productivity. So we pay so many cents per mile depending upon experience. Both of those are based on experience. So there is a productivity component to it. They also get paid if they have to sit at a loading dock. They get their hourly pay. I think we respect the driver's time and if you put zero value on a driver's time, there is no incentive for anybody, the carrier, the shipper, anybody to hurry up and load that truck. So that's, to me it's a fallacy, that's something that ought to be fixed. but in the meantime, we pay our drivers the way they should be paid. they get full benefits as well. there's always that bronze, ah, silver, gold medical plan, well we have a platinum plan. through anthem we also have dental and vision. We've got a 401K plan that we're setting up, just actually set it up last week so that the drivers have a self funded retirement plan that we as a company match to the maximum extent that we're allowed to under law. So we think that we have a ah, driver pay environment that balances productivity and time for all the time and hours and miles worked, failed to mention. So for all hours. So we pay on a two week cycle. So if, and it's not uncommon to have 100 plus hours during that two week period. So anything above 80 hours is at overtime. So that's a time and a half.

Todd Dills: Just as if the motor carrier exemption to the overtime requirements in the Fair Labor Standards act did not exist, another carrier in an overdrive award program, 2022 small fleet champ John McGee trucking approaches things similarly with his oil and gas services employee drivers.

Alec Costerus: So the carriers and the ATA members, you know, they all whine about driver turnover and whatnot and driver recruitment and they've sold everybody in Washington a bill of goods and that is creating a revolving door at all these mega carriers. They're all the same thief. They have a revolving door. They complain. They try to get these grant programs for recruitment, for military, recruiting women, all of these programs, which are good in a way, but the premise is wrong. We don't have a driver shortage. We have a driver pay issue. When somebody can go to my local McDonald's at $19 an hour and make more money flipping burgers than they do as a CDL driver, that should cause somebody to say, hey, you know, that CDL driver has a lot more responsibility, is much more heavily regulated, and why are we putting up with it? So part of the answer is, well, you can work more hours, but you don't get overtime. That $19 an hour burger flipper, if he works over 40 hours, which he very likely doesn't, but he can make overtime pay as well. Or he could moonlight, have two jobs, and make more money than a truck driver. Because when you take the average pay after tax that a owner operator makes, which historically was about $57,000, it might be, you know, well, today with low freight rates, it's probably the same. That's after tax. Well, I should say before tax, but after all the expenses. So the net income on what you pay tax.

Todd Dills: After topping 70 grand annually among ATBS clients just a couple of years ago, 2023 saw average owner operator income at just sixty two k and some change.

Alec Costerus: You know, when that number and you divide by 3100 hours worked on average, the pay, the last time I calculated, it was about 16.48 an hour. So I might make more money flipping burgers. That should scare the crap out of everybody. Do you want a $16.50 worker driving an 80,000 pound semi truck next to your station wagon, hauling the kids in the backseat on the interstate, in inclement weather? This just does not make sense.

Todd Dills: 3100 hours assumes almost 60 hours a week every single week of the year. Use the 2023 ATBS average income figures, and it's a good bit better for an hourly rate at $20.30, $20.30 for all time worked. But Costerus’ point is well taken.

Matt Cole then asked him about maintenance. Alpha Drivers is a bit anal retentive, the owner said, on that front. He followed that with detail of the use of a bypass oil filtration to extend drains and more on purple haze.

Alec Costerus: We have a five gallon, external bypass oil filter on the back of the cab. so we are able to run what I would call an extended drain. Basically, one oil change once a year, change all the filters. we use a lot of Hotshot’s Secret additives appropriately in the right place. We use Diesel Extreme to keep the injectors clean. We use Everyday Diesel Treatment with every fill up. We cleaned the sensors, crank position sensor, boost pressure sensor, you know, all of these things proactively to keep everything running, not just within factory spec, but optimally. So, we run a cylinder balance test to ensure that the overhead is properly set. because quite frankly, when purple haze or now booberry, and soon the other truck, you know, when you are a highly visible truck, we better have our maintenance preventively up to snuff, because otherwise we're not going to be top of the heap, so to speak. So we kind of have a built in incentive to make sure that the truck is running in optimal condition. tire pressures, proactive chassis lubes, they get the truck, give the truck a once over. Probably every other time that truck goes down for a 34 hour reset at home, we, have somebody go underneath the truck and just make sure that we're not missing something. We're pretty proactive about it. But that's a, that's the way Joel is, and b, it just makes sense to make sure. And I think we get a return on that extra maintenance, by ensuring that, the truck is in top condition. In 2023, we were a little over, I think around 114,000, if I remember correctly.

Todd Dills: Miles, that is.

Alec Costerus: But for example, when the truck was at the TMC show, not recently, but the year prior or at Matt's, the truck is down for a couple months combined. so we actually ran a rental truck in the interim, that I drove that while Joel was, shaking hands and kissing babies at the shows. so if you add those miles in, it's actually a little bit more. So right now we're at, I want to say 91,000 miles between the two trucks. We just. We've only had Booberry on the road for a little over a month, a, month and a half, I think. and we've had purple haze at MATS. And while it wasn't running, during the TMC this week, Joel was there with Volvo, regarding the I-Torque. So the truck wasn't really running. So now, that we've got, two trucks running, each truck going about 120,000 miles a year. So that's probably the normal pace, unless we have to bring a truck to a show or a dealer training because we do that, customer training events for some of the large fleets that are spec’ing trucks and trying to better understand the technology. we support dealers with those customers and Volvo corporate with those customers. So our duty cycle is a little bit less miles because of that. But when the trucks are running, it's not uncommon to surpass 3000 or 3500 miles a week.

Todd Dills: When Alpha first put purple haze on the road, they had the benefit of a trailer they rented to pull their customers furniture loads that was wrapped with Volvo material. What if a driver designed a truck was emblazoned along its sides? Kostro said, fitting, given Mora was fundamentally the designer of the spec in Purple Haze, now pulling power only entirely. Alpha doesn't have any trailer equipment under rental or ownership though it's a future possibility.

Alec Costerus: We have talked about spec'ing a trailer to have it made for us, a year ago, as you probably know, you know, equipment costs were pretty sky high. They have certainly come down, but when we've talked to trailer manufacturers and you know, they want to produce trailers down the production line and since they don't want to stop the production line to make our spec, rightfully they would charge for it. So we did not pull the trigger on that because it was just ah, exorbitant. but there's a lot of opportunity that's available with aftermarket aerodynamic equipment. I have a patent on a side skirt for example. a lot of things that to increase fuel economy and reduce the power required. The electric trucks certainly are going to be benefiting from that, to increase the range and capacity. So there's a lot of evolution that can be done, if you're just hauling a dry van with no arrow, that's just again not working efficiently. And so I think in today's environment, it's unfortunate that a lot of people are barely getting by, but a lot of that is self induced because they are not seizing the opportunity to improve their situation. So unfortunately if you don't you know, survival of the fittest, it's going to separate the sick from the healthy. So that culling of the herd is an unfortunate reality that is occurring. And it's not just smaller, you know, individual owner operators or small fleets. Even the megas are hurting. I won't identify which one because I don't want to take away from the point. But even the large mega carriers one just recently said that they got caught flat footed, they weren't paying attention to the market. you know, if you're getting paid millions of dollars in compensation and you can't see what's going on and you're not seizing the opportunity, then you're doing a disservice to the shareholders. The same thing's happening on a much smaller level with the individual owner operators. And so, unfortunately, the megas have investors that can support that kind of downturn. The individual owner operator cannot so either make the investments when times are good, or efficiency and survive as we have, or struggle. the conversation yesterday was about, you know, the ability of owner operators to afford doing maintenance and that they can't afford to do that. if you can't do your maintenance and keep the truck in, you know, road worthy condition, you need to park the truck, either become a company driver or leverage your experience. You could become a trainer or go find a different profession, where you're better equipped. So it's an unfortunate reality, but unfortunately, there's going to be a calling of the herd. But this is a tougher market environment. You know, just like in nature, it can be tough, it can be cruel, it might even be deadly. So, I think folks need to look at how they're operating the business strategically, rather than simply saying, oh, I gotta go, balls of the wall, got to run hard, go 70 miles an hour so I can get more freight. That's running very unsmart. and I think in this business now, today, it's become much more complex and requires a greater savviness and level of sophistication, rather than just holding the steering wheel. And so, as an owner operator, getting back to the question, as an owner operator, I saw that I could make more money if I was very fuel efficient. I had an older truck eventually over a million and a quarter miles, but I was very, very efficient with old equipment. so it's entirely possible to get eight and a half miles to the gallon, lifetime on equipment that's approaching 15 years old. But you have to understand how to get there and do things strategically. with today's trucks, 10 miles to the gallon is not difficult. It requires. Yes, right specs. It requires the right mindset that Joel and Travis exhibit on the road on a daily basis. Just operating very smartly, it requires a more savvy, approach to being a commercial and professional driver. And I think, those that do that will be successful. Those that don't might not be here next year.

Todd Dills: Ways to avoid joining the quote unquote capacity reduction ranks, right? That's how Overdrive's own Gary Bucks put it last fall, when the pontificate and prognosticators among big fleets out there were crowing about the competition from small fleets, driving down rates, and possibly leading to the inevitable situation Alec, Costeris there invoked as well. To my mind, it's the efforts of untold numbers of owner operators, just like Costaris and Morrow and Alpha Drivers, that those prognosticators underestimate the ability to get lean, to be smart, to ride the wave out to better times. Big thanks to may Trucker of the Month Alec Costeris for his time and to Matt Cole for bringing us his story here and in the feature he wrote just a couple of weeks back. You can find [email protected]/trucker-of-the-year hyphens between those words there you can also enter your own owner operator business up to three trucks in Overdrive's Trucker of the Year competition. It's sponsored for this year by Bostrom Seating, who's offering up a new seat to sweeten the prize pot for our eventual 2024 Trucker of the Year winner. A scale model re-creation of the winners truck, too, serves as a special sort of trophy for the big win. Enter today via, overdriveonline.com/toptrucker that's overdriveonline.com-toptrucker.

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the Partners in Business book, updated annually.
Download
Partners in Business Issue Cover