Even Truckers Have Trouble With Delivery

Everything I know about irony comes from Alanis Morissette, which is ironic since her song “Ironic” doesn’t accurately define irony.

I digress.

One of the pickles transportation companies find themselves in these days is they can’t get their new tractors delivered to them in a timely manner. Companies such as USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren and ArcBest Corp. of Fort Smith are in the process of adding new tractors to their fleets.

ArcBest said it added approximately 600 new tractors in 2016 and again in 2017. It plans to do the same in fiscal 2018.

USA Truck wants to add up to 400 new tractors to its fleet, which represents turning over one-fourth of its fleet in a year.

Both companies are behind in their equipment upgrades because the manufacturers don’t have enough drivers to deliver the tractors. The current driver shortage isn’t a joke, apparently.

USA Truck CFO Jason Bates said the company had expected 135 new tractors delivered in the first two quarters of the year. So far, they had received 41.

“[T]he most comical, but kind of infuriating for me, has been that there have been trucks available, but they — the [original equipment manufacturers] — literally do not have drivers to deliver the trucks, which sounds crazy,” USA Truck CEO James Reed said during the company’s second-quarter earnings conference call in July. “And so we’re working in all kinds of creative ways to just go get the trucks off their lots, to get guys in our building that work in operations that have a CDL to go help them bring” the trucks.

The problem isn’t unique to USA Truck. ArcBest’s David Cobb, the company’s CFO, said in a conference call this month that the shipment of trucks was behind last year’s schedule; there is a nine-month wait time for orders.

“It has been an industrywide thing,” Reed said. “Everybody I talk to is having the same problems.”

To be clear, the driver shortage isn’t the only reason deliveries are falling behind. The massive increase in tractor orders has caused a backlog of component materials.

The reasons companies buy new trucks are pretty clear: New trucks run better and more efficiently. They are also good recruiting tools for the dwindling pool of drivers trucking companies are fighting over.

USA Truck is also transitioning its fleet from manual transmission rigs to automatic transmission. Another selling point for recruiting drivers.

This has been a great year for tractor manufacturers. FTR, a transportation consulting firm, reported that Class 8 tractors — those 33,001 pounds or heavier — hit an all-time high with more than 52,000 orders in July.

For the year, FTR said, more than 300,000 new tractors have been ordered by companies. During the past 12 months, nearly 450,000 tractors have been ordered.

Now you might be wondering why trucking companies want so many new trucks when their “old” trucks are just a few years old in many cases. Well, this isn’t the family Suburban that is still going strong 10 years and 120,000 miles later.

A tractor gets that many miles put on it in an average year and it’s pulling tons of cargo in a trailer, not just the children and the dog. There is a ready market for those used-but-not-decrepit tractors because many smaller companies and independent drivers buy those three-year-old tractors because they can’t afford the sparkling new rig costing $150,000.

The new tractors also have a thorn amongst their blooms. They cost more to maintain.

I know that sounds counterintuitive, but the new tractors have electronic logging devices and lane recognition and beeps and cameras and umlauts and who-knows-what other stuff. Experts say that maintaining all those technological marvels is expensive, even when they aren’t malfunctioning or broken.

A side note, fixing a 2005 Ford Mustang once cost me $500 because a moth flew into a computer gizmo in the engine and shorted it out (at least that is what the mechanic said, wink).