A Mexican trucker’s view of NAFTA

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GUADALAJARA, MX – Noe Montes has experienced the benefits of NAFTA first hand. In a single decade he has grown his business from a single truck to a sophisticated fleet with 170 power units and 250 drivers – serving automotive shippers from Linamar to Pirelli.

He’s eying opportunities in Canada, too, particularly in a lane that would stretch between Mexico and Southern Ontario. Gone are the days when Mexican carriers would simply interline with their counterparts in Canada and the U.S., says the owner of Transmontes and its sister company, TM Transportation Services in Laredo, Texas.

But even as the 40-year-old entrepreneur adds to his fleet’s capacity, he is keeping a close eye on NAFTA negotiations.

“I am very optimistic because the relations between those three countries are very strong for more than 20 years,” Montes said in a broad-ranging discussion with industry media. Besides that, NAFTA has introduced more than growing business volumes. He has seen it transform the way the trucking industry is perceived in Mexico.

 “Twenty years ago it was considered a not important industry, but since NAFTA started [the] transportation industry in Mexico is getting better,” Montes explained. “We are now trying to get good technology, trying to get good practice.”

Transmontes and TM Transportation Services are good examples of that. All of his power units, predominantly Volvos, are no more than four years old. The trailers are new as well. Telematics systems include geofencing capabilities, and he introduced Electronic Logging Devices three years ago, well ahead of the U.S. mandate that applies as of December 18.

While aware of a growing driver shortage, particularly in the U.S., he says he hasn’t faced much of a struggle. “We know where to find Mexican drivers,” Montes says. The fleet has also had success reaching out to younger workers between 18 and 28, in part because of technologies like I-Shift Automated Manual Transmissions.

The fleet also invests in training for the younger workers – and not just to improve the skills to move a truck. Most of them have no more than a high school education when first hired, so Montes invests in English language training to prepare them for cross-border work.

“If you go into the USA and you see some police, and the police start talking English and the driver doesn’t answer, it’s going to be dangerous,” he said.

Indeed, it can be a culture shock. Operations based solely in Mexico might flaunt regulations, he added. There is no choice but to follow the rules in the U.S.

Montes pays 35 cents per mile in both operations, although those in the U.S. receive additional benefits. In contrast, some Mexican drivers can make 1/3 of their counterparts on the other side of the border. “When you get that opportunity [to work in the U.S.] you are going to be the best driver in the world,” he said.

Montes acknowledged reports of crime in Mexico, but insists the situation is improving. “As a Mexican company, obviously, we know how to be safe,” he said. The fleet’s security procedures include protocols requiring drivers to stop only in secure truck stops, while personnel monitor truck locations around the clock and act on any unit that strays outside a geofenced route. “Technology is like a friend,” he says. “Like a good friend.”

Technology also offers drivers the tools to meet or exceed fuel economy targets of 7 miles per gallon (33.6 liters per 100 kilometers), as the fleet looks to address something that represents 40% of operating costs.  

“If you pay incentives, extra incentives to driver, you can get more fuel efficiency,” he says. Newer equipment helps, too.

While the company runs new equipment, it still falls short of North America’s latest generation of Greenhouse Gas-limiting engines. Montes’ trucks have engines that meet the Euro 4 standard, in part because the industry has limited access to Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel, expected to be readily available by 2019.

And Montes clearly has his eyes on the future.

“I’m not scared if something happens with NAFTA,” he said. “We can go to offer our services in the domestic market because we know how [to] work in a good manner, and also I am very positive because I know we can offer a good quality.”


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

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