Rising fuel costs worry trucking industry the most, survey says

Controlling escalating fuel costs for America's private truck fleets is the top concern of the trucking industry, according to industry leaders in a survey commissioned by First Fleet Corp. Industry leaders were polled on the web and at First Fleet's recent Spring Fleet Managers' Conference.

To manage fuel costs, 48% of those polled said they are using on-site fueling stations, while 38% have issued credit or debit cards to their drivers to refuel at stations where they have negotiated rates with oil companies.

The survey also addressed two other industry issues: maintenance service and collision management.

Fleet managers said that maintaining their truck fleets at optimum operating condition is a major focus; the most important concern is how and where maintenance is performed. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed said they have on-site maintenance facilities, with 23% outsourcing maintenance and repair services to contractors' facilities. Forty-two percent of the respondents solved this challenge by using a balanced combination of company-run shops and outside facilities. Ninety percent of the fleets that use outside shops have been doing so for more than two years.

Indications are that a large number of mechanics have been temporarily removed from the workforce to serve in the war in Iraq. In light of that, it is not surprising that 33% of the respondents reported difficulties in recruiting or retaining qualified service technicians. However, only 3% of the fleets have turned to outsourcing in the past two years.

The survey posed a question about the reliability of new equipment purchased in the past two years compared with older equipment. This resulted in a dead heat: 38% of respondents believe newer trucks are more reliable, while 38% said new trucks are just as reliable as older trucks. Only 15% thought new trucks are less reliable than older ones.

On the topic of collision management, the survey asked fleet managers how their companies handle issues associated with truck accidents, including recovery costs and repairs. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed said accident management is handled within their company. Of the 14% whose companies do not have this internal function, 56% reported outsourcing the task. Regarding satisfaction with aspects of collision management, the highest rating went to vehicle repairs. Respondents were most dissatisfied with the availability of substitute equipment.

First Fleet asked the fleet executives about the relevance of various fleet services, ranking them on a five-point scale, from very relevant to least relevant. Fuel management attained the highest ranking (4.29), with flexible funding and leasing options coming in second (4.21), followed by coordination of manufacturers and suppliers (4.16).

The survey, which drew a 25% response versus 16% who responded in fall 2004, was commissioned by First Fleet and conducted by Dr Luiz Duarte, vice-president of Starmark Market Intelligence. For a full summary of the survey, visit the web site at http://ffcsurvey.starmark.com/.

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