Werner Drive Cast – Let’s Talk About Cool Trucks

Werner Drivecast

Ben, Associate VP of Equipment Resources, and Tony, Director of Fleet Maintenance, talk about all things trucks and trailers. Listen to their in-depth discussion about the new features of Werner’s latest trucks, trailers, and technology.

Transcript:

Johnny

Welcome to another exciting edition of the Werner Drive cast. I’m your host Johnny, and today in our socially distant studio. We’ve got a great show today. We are going to be talking about the heart and soul of every professional driver, their trucks. That’s right, the trucks are their home away from home. It’s their kitchen, it’s their living room… trucks are professional driver’s livelihood. Drivers take great pride in their rides, and today in this podcast you’ll hear all the latest on what’s new, what’s coming and what’s going on in the industry. In past podcasts, we’ve touched on Werner’s five Ts plus S initiative, which is Werner’s financial commitment to trucks, trailers, talent, terminals, technology and sustainability. There’s that “S.” Today it is all about our first 2T’s “Trucks” and “Trailers,” and I’ve got two incredible experts here in the studio, Mr. Ben, Vice President of Equipment Resources, and Tony, Director of Werner Maintenance. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here today.

Tony

Hey Johnny, how are you?

Johnny

Awesome great, Tony. How are you?

Tony

I’m doing well, Sir, thank you.

Johnny

Awesome, and Ben.

Ben

Yes Sir.

Johnny

How are how you doing?

Ben

Doing I am doing great. I’m very excited to be here. I’m going to try and amp up my energy to keep up with you.

Johnny

Hahaha No, you be you, as well as the cadence of how you say everything. That’s right, we’re going full on podcasting here. Fantastic. Ben, let’s start energy high because we got some high numbers here.

Ben

Let’s do it.

Johnny

With nearly 8000 trucks and 24,000 trailers, give or take, and nearly 10,000 drivers spread across the country; how are you coordinating all that?

Ben

You know, no two days are the same, if we’re going to just be honest, right? We’re looking at each of our terminals. Understanding the balance of what we have for tractors across that network. Then, understand what we’re going to have for needs. Then, work with the shops and try and figure out what exactly we can get ready in a day. Then, that’s only the half of it, I guess. Then, you’re going to want to make sure all of your customers are taking care of as well, in regards to trailer pools. That they are going to have the right amount to keep their freight moving. Then, obviously, as well tractors in a ready status and ready to go for the driver. Once they’ve promoted out or once they’ve switched out of their tractor, we want to move as quickly as they want to move. That’s kind of our day, in a nutshell. Then, a really cool kind of intersection in between there, and all of this is understanding which equipment needs to leave the fleet. That’s the equipment that’s getting too old, or that needs to be sold and moved on to other carriers to use. How much more can we inject in and still keep that happy balance and rhythm and cadence throughout our days, and make sure everybody got the equipment and is productive.

Johnny

Oh wow, that is a lot of things to add balance.

Ben

Yeah, yeah, it’s a lot of moving parts, kind of a juggling act. It’s called a Rubik’s Cube, at times across the floor.

Johnny

There it is, the Rubik’s Cube of trucking. I love it. That does sound like a rather intricate process. Let me tell you, technology is a big focus here at Werner. How much of a role does technology play into how our drivers interact with their trucks?

Ben

It’s a lot, and it’s becoming more and more everyday. Tony is probably going to touch on it here in a little bit, too. It’s an exciting part of our job as we talk about the next model year. What’s coming down the line this year? What’s Werner specking their equipment at? Every year, there’s kind of one or two big initiatives that we add. They all make some business sense, and they also make it a lot more accommodating for the drivers, as well. Some of those in the past have been the switch to the automated transmission. It wasn’t the most popular thing at the time. We moved away from the clutch, the manual transmission. Now everyone is in an automated tractor, and overall, I think the industry was a little hesitant on it. It’s now getting embraced, and it’s almost the new standard across most. I think it would be hard to give out some manual tractors today. That was kind of cool. It was neat to see the fleet kind of transform in their acceptance to the new spec inverters. All of our over-the-road tractors have an inverter in them, today. Which has really helped the drivers to accommodate them, keeping food on the trucks, allowing them to plan for their days differently. Run a microwave. Run a refrigerator. Spec-wise, you’re going to start seeing our model year 2022s, in the year 2021, they’re going to start having a little compartment and pre-wired for a refrigerator. That’s really exciting. The second half of this year, you’ll see all of our manufacturers come down the line with a compartment for a refrigerator. That’s going to make our drivers have the ability to plan their day differently. They’re not going to rely on the truck stops or the unhealthy foods that you may grab while you’re on the GO. Plan, make your sandwiches, make whatever type of meals you want and have that refrigerator capability inside the tractor. Slowly, but surely, we will be fully integrated there. That’s going to take two or three years as the old ones move out, and the new ones come in.

Johnny

How new, would you say our industry average is for the age of the trucks in the fleet?

Ben

We are running out of two, a two-year average for our tractors. One thing that we’ve been able to do over the last five or six years, is move that down from a two and a half to a two.  That took a lot of work that was a lot of planning that.

Johnny

You are talking a lot of trucks. I mean, to move a number that much with so many trucks… if you’ve got two trucks, that’s easy math. We’re talking thousands of trucks.

Ben

Basically, what you’re doing at a two-year average age, your oldest tractors are going to be four years. When we were at the two and a half or even a three-year average age, your oldest tractors were five to six years. So, that’s old model years that have exited our fleet, that we don’t even have to put in front of our drivers and ask them to use in their day-to-day work. We’re running probably one of the freshest and newest fleets in the industry without a doubt. That’s been really fun to see, and I think it’s going to pay off huge dividends going forward.

Johnny

What would you say are the biggest benefits of running a fleet with that age?

Ben

We definitely see it in our maintenance costs. The ability to…

Tony

New technology.

Ben

Yeah, the technology that it’s now able to run on these tractors. The ability to attract a driver, to have the youngest age in the fleet tells you that we are driver-centric. Started with one driver and one tractor and we are definitely still driver-centric even after 65 years of being in the business.

Tony

And also, just adding, lowering the age also allows you to reduce the age obviously, but we also get into more advanced safety systems, which is a much better way. It allows to be in the forefront of new technology, because the factories… the manufacturers are always coming up with new things to make our trucks more fuel-efficient, better performance, help a driver sustained on the road. Like Ben was talking about refrigerators, moving forward to pre-wire, the inverter systems. Satellite system linking our Wi-Fi systems that can help sustain a driver while they’re out on the road. It’s exciting.

Johnny

That’s all amazing stuff. These are all cool features that are packed in some really cool trucks. Tony, what types of trucks are in the fleet currently?

Tony

We run the P4 Freightliner Cascadia. We run that in both the sleeper 72-inch, the 48-inch mid-roof and the day cabs. We have the Kenworth T6-80s. We run the now. Starting LT which is a newer model, and then we run the Peterbilt 579s.

Johnny

Oh, very cool. Then in this year, in 2021, there’s actually a cool story that we maybe got possession of one of the first of something. Do you want to tell that story?

Tony

Yeah, absolutely. Kenworth reached out to us and they said we were going to be getting the first, what they call the “midlife change truck.” That was in March, so we got a chance to go out there to Kenworth, and the very first truck to roll off the line with the new design was ours. Scott Reed, our boss and I, gotta go fly out there. Meet with the Kenworth folks and shake hands and turn us over keys, and it is pretty neat. It’s a beautiful truck. Kenworth did a really good job designing this truck. The aesthetic of the hood, there are some features accessing to the battery box. It’s got a lot of things that you don’t see that’s behind it, and new wiring architecture that’s going to make the harness more robust. Just things are going to help take care of the driver better on the road. Because there are the things that drivers need, but also they want stay running. They don’t want to break down. They want to be out there moving. They don’t need to be sitting in a shop or anything like that. There’s a lot of behind the scene. Things that were taken care of on this truck that Werner and other companies have been working with Kenworth to make better. By the harnesses, the after-treatment harness, and the engine harnesses, made those better. Also, for future technology, there are a lot of things coming in the future, especially with collision mitigation systems. There are next steps. Varying voltages can be changing, so they’re setting this truck up much for the future.

Johnny

Wow, very cool. Future-proofing things. The thing I love, that we keep talking about here, safety is so paramount here at Werner Enterprises. I love every time I hear you guys talking, it just further reinforces that commitment to safety.

Ben

Well, here Johnny, one thing that I didn’t touch on earlier, a driver who’s satisfied with their equipment, who isn’t frustrated that they have a 7-year-old tractor or one that’s continually breaking down, or the AC goes on and off. Those types of things, granted they happen with us every now and then. They don’t happen near as much as they do across the rest of the industry. You’re going to have a safer driver. He’s not pretty focused on all of these other things as I’m going down the road. Their attention is what they need to do to stay safe because all of those other factors aren’t factors as much as they are with other carriers out there.

Johnny

Yeah, right. It’s almost like a happy driver is a safer driver.

Ben

That’s absolutely our goal every day, is to meet every one of those requests, because we realize that it’s going to make a happy, more satisfied, safe driver.

Johnny

Yeah, we love our drivers. I mean really is what it is. And I hope that we show it by making significant investments in this stuff, including some of the new 2022 trucks. Are there any drivers already in a 2022 truck that you guys know of?

Tony

Yeah. There’re a few hundreds of trucks out on the road. A little bit of everything that we’ve already received. Probably about three, maybe 400 of those, you know it’s probably more than that now. It’s probably about 800 trucks.

Ben

The calendar year 2021, you’re putting in your model year 2022.

Johnny

Very cool.

Ben

Yeah. We’ve got about 800 of them out there.

Johnny

That’s cool, yeah. That seems very aggressive, putting the new trucks out there.

Ben

We like putting new trucks in the fleet, I promise you.

Johnny

That’s awesome. Is there anything… what would you say is new about those 2022s?

Tony

There’s certainly knew… the safety systems are more updated. Things are coming on this year is a stop and go, which is coming on the Navistar product. That’s a really good system that basically works the cruise control, and it flows with the traffic. Less driver work, easier monitoring the wheel. Doing, like Ben said earlier. He’s able to drive and be focused on what’s going around without having to shift like the old school days. So, it’s a pretty neat system. This technology is turning into like what a car is.

Ben

Yeah.

Tony

We used to be as an industry, 20 years behind. Now we’re moving faster than cars, in some cases. Not to get off track here, but we talk about new technology. One thing behind the scenes that you don’t see on the truck is we’re working very hard, which we called “predictive and scheduled maintenance.”

Johnny

How incredible is that situation, where we have options now. Before, you kind of dealt the cards you’re dealt, and now you can with that forefront and that time, you can plan around that and really set everybody up for success in that equation. So, very cool stuff. Out of all of that, and then some, what are you most excited about when it comes to new features?

Tony

Oh, you look at what technology has done for our trucks. We started in 2022 model year for our trucks, we moved into LED headlights now. If you look at problems that we have mostly on the roads, tires, lights, and breaks. So, we’ve moved to disc brakes a couple of years ago, and we’ve seen our brake issues declined quite a bit in repair costs, safety or stopping distance. We did a great job with that, and then LED headlights.

Johnny

Yeah, and it really does seem like through all these features at the core of it, is the driver. I just absolutely love Werner’s commitment to the driver.

Tony

That’s right. Because we’re keeping America moving!

Ben

Exactly.

Johnny

We could do it with trucks. But we certainly can’t do it without trailers, and that’s why I wanted to talk about trailers for a second here. They seem pretty straightforward.

Ben

Yeah, yeah. There’s a little bit of that same kind of cadence, or balance, in regards to trailers. One of the real similarities is we’ll keep track of the average age. Now granted, it’s a couple of years higher, but we’re doing the same kind of “out with the old in with the new,” and then understanding what markets in regards to geographic regions need those. Everybody kind of knows those pain points in regards to markets that need trailers more than others, and where it’s tougher to find an empty trailer and where it’s easier to get an empty one. We work daily on trying to balance those markets. A great enhancement that we now have, and that we can use to our advantage is that we’re 100% trailer tracking on all of our trailers. So, we know where they’re all at. There’re those types of things, and we’re enhancing that integration more and more every day. It’s helping us understand those balances in regards to where the trailers are, and where they should be. Where can they make the most sense where can they make the most money, and where do our drivers need them? We continue to open up our manufacturers in regards to the types of trailers were buying, too. We’ve opened up 500 trailers this year, which is just a huge help and helps those drivers not have those empty miles or that trailer search. The dreaded “trailer search” to find an empty trailer where you could get told, “Hey, head here,” and it’s not there, or it’s still being loaded. All of those types of things are getting better and better every day. With both who we’re building, with as well the capabilities and the trailer tracking devices that we have.

Johnny

Wow.

Ben

Yeah, they’re exciting too and kind of an afterthought, at times. I mean, everybody loves their truck, but everybody loves their truck much better with a loaded trailer behind it. You need to have the trailers, and you need to know where they’re at, so you can stay productive. You’re not very productive “bobtail,” that’s for sure.

Johnny

Yeah, no joke there. You know, we talked about the average Werner fleet age when it comes to trucks. What do we want to talk about for the average fleet age, when it comes to Werner trailers?

Ben

Four years, which is by far an industry leader. So, that means a trailer eight to nine years old is getting exited out of our fleet. That’s a big, big feather in our cap for sure. It just helps in all of those other areas in regards of production safety. All the maintenance costs and making our drivers’ lives as easy as possible out there because it’s not an easy job. So, we want to do those types of things to make it easier for them.

Johnny

Well, guys, this has been an exciting conversation to have about trucks and trailers here. Ben and Tony, thank you so much. Have a great rest of your day, everybody. Thank you for listening. Buckle up and drive safe out there.

Tony

Thanks, Johnny.

Ben

Thanks, Johnny.