Fleet discussion revisits HDD panel to provide insight on business during the pandemic

June 25, 2020
The webinar discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on three different fleets and their business operations.
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The Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) recently hosted a webinar, part of the group’s new HDMA Perspectives webinar series, titled, “Moving Through the Pandemic: The Fleet Perspective.” This webinar, hosted in conjunction with MacKay & Company, provided insight through three panelists representing their fleets. Tanya Morrow, president, Ploger Transportation; Mari Roberts, senior director of transportation, PepsiCo/Frito Lay; and Bob Phipps, maintenance supervisor, Bettendorf Trucking spoke to the challenges faced by their fleets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to the changes to their operations. The webinar was a follow-up to the original panel discussion at Heavy Duty Dialogue 2020 earlier this year.

Stuart S. MacKay, president emeritus of MacKay & Company, hosted the panel discussion along with Tim Kraus, president and chief operating officer of HDMA.

Phipps and Morrow both attested that their operations experienced a downturn beginning in March. For Bettendorf Trucking, the uncertainty in the building products industry correlated into a low demand. However, the company has since seen an uptick in operations and is “running fairly strong now,” said Phipps.

Ploger Transportation was operating through the pandemic with a food grade designation for their cargo; the major change in their operations came from shipping to distribution centers rather than dealing directly with manufacturers and not going directly to end users. The change in business operations resulted in a downturn, however operations have since been “picking back up into normal levels, close to January / February,” said Morrow. Furthermore, rates are still soft, she continued. With an excess capacity of trucks available, truck rates had been soft for quite some time, she added.

Mari explained that PepsiCo/Frito Lay has been extremely busy through the pandemic, reaching record level weeks in some indicating factors. With the grocery business increased substantially due to lockdown and stay-at-home mandates, the fleet had to shift supplying bars and restaurants in order to keep up with the demand that was coming from grocery stores. Mari expressed that being a private fleet, and one of the largest in North America, afforded them the opportunity to adjust to changes in operations. Drivers were shifted to different regions based on demand, and suppliers were leveraged to supplement the demand and ensure that drivers remained employed.

Both Ploger Transportation and Bettendorf Trucking expressed they too were able to maintain employment status for their drivers, with Bettendorf acquiring more drivers from companies that had trucks parked through the pandemic.

Through the pandemic, the fleets stated that maintenance procedures did not vary drastically.

“We emphasize maintaining the running trucks,” Phipps said. “And we focus on preventive maintenance, we always do. We haven’t changed our business plan as far as maintenance goes.”

Furthermore, all three panelists stated that the fleets did not run into any issues when it came to sourcing parts or components throughout the pandemic.

“Our suppliers have been stellar,” Phipps said. “They had to do some workarounds on logistics and shipping… [and as a result], we had to up our inventories a bit more than normal. But our suppliers made it happen.”

Phipps also mentioned that Bettendorf Trucking turned to internet purchasing more frequently during the pandemic as a means of sourcing parts.

Both Morrow and Mari reflected the same sentiment when it came to sourcing parts. Mari also mentioned that the PepsiCo/Frito Lay fleet had been experiencing some of the highest PM and uptime compliance rates in a while.

Phipps mentioned that Bettendorf Trucking has also utilized remote diagnostics more so during the pandemic than the fleet has in the past. The use of remote diagnostics “speeds up determining our issues, determining our resources, and having parts ordered and ready when we need it,” he said.

Morrow said that Ploger Transportation relied on their use of telematics, a practice the fleet had been hands-on and heavily involved with before the pandemic, to track drivers and assets.

A piece of technology Mari expressed that the PepsiCo/Frito Lay fleet felt they need to obtain were cameras. “We wished we had cameras in the vehicles to help protect our drivers and have more documentation,” Mari said concerning recent protests and demonstrations on public motorways.

Mari also mentioned that the fleet has been more heavily utilizing messaging capabilities with their drivers as a means of communication throughout the pandemic. Marrow furthered that notion, mentioning that drivers are no longer visiting the fleet offices, but rather relying on phone calls to communicate with dispatch.

A notable positive noted by Bettendorf Trucking was that in March and April, the fleet noticed drive times decreased and fuel economy improved, which Phipps attributed to less traffic congestion.

When asked what practices that arose during the pandemic would be here to stay, all three panelists agreed that virtual training will continue to play a large role in the industry, as will virtual communication technology, such as video teleconferencing tools like Zoom.

About the Author

Tyler Fussner | Assistant Editor | Vehicle Repair Group

Tyler Fussner is assistant editor for the Vehicle Repair Group.

Fussner studied professional writing and publishing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has experience in shop operations, is a Michelin Certified Tire Technician, and a Michelin Certified Tire Salesperson.

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