9 things we learned about private truck fleets

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The annual benchmarking survey conducted by the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) offers several insights into the ways private fleets conduct business in the U.S. And the 2022 version is no exception.

“This was a year unlike any in the history of the survey. It was marked by capacity constraints in many areas,” a related report concluded, citing challenges in sourcing for-hire services, equipment, and truck drivers alike.

Here are nine things we learned from the survey that included responses from 105 fleet member companies:

Coca-Cola delivery truck
(Photo: iStock)

1. It’s a driver’s market

Driver turnover among the surveyed private fleets hit 22.5%, pushing beyond 20% for the first time in the survey’s history, and faring much worse than the average 14.25% seen over the past 15 years.

“I would anticipate a return to a lower number next year,” NPTC executive vice-president of education Tom Moore said when presenting the results, predicting turnover closer to 16-17%. Either way, it’s still much better than the performance among for-hire fleets.

“This level of turnover is consistent with the aging workforce and the increased number of drivers opting for retirement,” the report adds, noting the average driver was 51.6 years old. “It’s a driver’s market. Drivers have little hesitation in leaving a company if they think they can make better money somewhere else.”

Not surprisingly, one-third of all the top challenges cited by the fleets related to drivers, including an aging driver population, recruiting, turnover, hiring, retention, and the driver shortage itself.

2. Driver compensation is on the rise

Private fleet drivers in the U.S. made an average of $79,907 last year, marking an increase of more than $4,000 compared to the year before. (All figures are in US dollars.)

“Drivers have become free agents like baseball and football in that they can command those salaries,” Moore said, noting that 26% of surveyed fleets said they are changing salaries more frequently than annually or on an as-needed basis. And 57% are using signing bonuses.

Onboarding a new truck driver also cost an average of $7,866, and recruiters had to review, screen or interview 10 candidates to fill each driving position. It typically took 26 days to hire a candidate, and 13 days to complete an associated background check.

3. Distribution networks are being reshaped

About one-third of those surveyed reported an increase in the number of locations they serve. “That means they moved closer to the customer,” Moore said.

It’s making a difference in the work drivers do.

Sixty-eight percent of the drivers who work for the private fleets are now home every night. Of the drivers on the road for longer periods of time, 12% were out overnight, and 20% were out two nights or more.

The average heavy-duty unit averaged 88,700 miles (143,000 km), down from 91,500 miles (147,000 km) the previous year. But this can also be due to factors such as the tighter monitoring of Hours of Service, lower governed speeds, and time lost while waiting for loads.

4. ‘On-time’ performance is relative

When it comes to measuring customer service, 64% of the fleets track on-time performance, but they’re looking at this in a different way than they did in the past.

“For years, the survey revealed private fleets pursuing tighter and tighter time windows, with a number of respondents indicating that they measured on-time delivery windows to the minute,” the report notes. “Private fleets [now] report that on-time delivery performance is a matter of individual customer expectations.”

5. Diesel still dominates

Eighty-eight percent of private fleets are investing in green initiatives, with 73% using speed governors, 55% using trailer skirts, and 54% leveraging anti-idling devices. It all helped the average heavy-duty units to reach 6.97 miles per gallon (33.75 L/100 km).

“This is an impressive accomplishment given the fact that many private fleet respondents report they were forced to extend their equipment trade cycles due to the unavailability of equipment,” the report says.

But diesel engines also dominate the equipment.

“Alternative powerplants continue to comprise a fraction of the overall market. In fact, only 8% of the respondents report that a portion of their fleet is powered by a fuel source other than diesel,” it adds.

6. It’s (mostly) a private matter

Surveyed private fleets said they handled 68% of outbound movements, leaving 17% to for-hire carriers, and 12% to dedicated contract carriers. There was also an 8% jump in the inbound freight they handled, reaching 43%, as businesses struggled to find outside carriers or were unwilling to pay higher rates.

“The private fleet is not trying to be all things to all people,” Moore said, referring to the role that for-hire partners still play. “It positions itself in kind of an area in which we can deliver that service, that predictability, that control, and it typically outsources the rest.”

The average length of haul expanded to 242 miles, up from last year’s 184 miles, which the NPTC says underscores the capacity shortage in the for-hire industry and how private fleets are likely forced to extend their range of service.

7. Data is king

For the third year in a row, fleets reported broader and deeper data aggregation and management strategies, with 88% deploying back-office technology. Only eight years ago, the rate was as low as 56%. Dispatch systems were most common, with 82% adopting dispatch systems, 81% safety systems, and 74% with fuel tax or routing systems.

8. Private safety records outperform for-hire fleets

Private fleets report 0.4 accidents per million miles, roughly three times better than the industry average reported by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. When collisions happened, the fleets were at fault 20% of the time.

Moore credited the broad adoption of active safety technologies among the surveyed private fleets, with more than 70% using speed monitors, in-cab cameras, collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure systems. Another 18% are using backup cameras, and he sees “tremendous interest” in improving visibility.

9. Growth plans are in the works

Seventy-six percent of those surveyed expect their fleet to expand over the next five years. Another 17% expect to stay the same size, while 7% expect the operations to shrink.

In the past year, shipments grew 10%, volumes 7%, the value of shipments 12%, and mileage 8%.

“Incremental growth,” Moore said, citing the figures. “It’s sustainable growth.”

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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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