Combining three functional areas of its fleet operation under a single management team is proving to be an advantage at AAA Cooper Transportation. “With safety, maintenance and purchasing for the fleet managed collectively we have a combined thought process,” says Steven Aronhalt, the fleet’s vice president of safety and maintenance. “The value in that approach is a better understanding of the impact all three areas of focus have on each other.
“The advantage is that we can more effectively make as many advancements in safety, fuel efficiency and operating and maintenance costs as possible,” Aronhalt adds. “Consolidated decision-making is geared toward improvement in all areas, and a single viewpoint also helps explains the investment needed and changes we want to make to our ownership and executive management team.”
Headquartered in Dothan, Ala., AAA Cooper Transportation is a privately held, asset based, multi-regional less-than-truckload, truckload and dedicated contract transportation solutions provider. The company operates 2,600 tractors and 6,000 trailers from 73 facilities in 21 southeastern, southwestern and Midwest states and Puerto Rico, and along with partner carriers offers coverage into Canada and Mexico.
Equipment is a main focus of the consolidated management approach at AAA Cooper. The fleet that is made up primarily of Volvo tractors now includes a growing number of the manufacturer’s new VNL models. Beginning with about 75 of the power units, the company plans to have 250 VNLs by the end of this year and as many as 500 by the end of 2019. The new tractors are both replacements and additions to the fleet.
“Our new tractors are a good example of the way that safety, fuel efficiency and cost factors impact our decisions,” Aronhalt explains. “For example, the new VNL has the latest fuel-efficient specifications and integrated safety systems.
“Running mostly one make of tractor means our maintenance staff is already familiar with the OEM’s products. From a maintenance standpoint, our costs are lower,” Aronhalt continues. “That’s also important because we plan to operate tractors for a long time. We even have units in the fleet that are approaching two million miles.”
A focus on fuel economy is evident across the AAA Cooper fleet. Volvo’s XE system, which adds high torque and Adaptive Gearing, the OEM’s I-Shift automated manual transmission and full fairing packages are specified on new tractors. On tandem-axle day cabs, pup trailers and Silver Eagle converter dollies, the fleet uses wide-base single tires while single axle power units have fuel-efficient duals. All trailers in over-the-road operations have side skirts as well.
Safety systems on AAA Cooper’s latest tractors include air disc brakes and LED headlights; turn, marker and parking lamps; and daytime running lights. The trucks also have Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology (VEST) systems that detect loss of control, jackknife or rollover events and automatically reduce engine torque and selectively apply the brakes.
In addition, Volvo Active Driver Assist systems on the fleet’s tractors provide stationary object detection with vehicle braking, which sends audible and visual warnings if a non-moving, metallic object is detected in front of the truck. Lane departure warning systems uses a windshield-mounted camera to track road markings and alert the driver to take corrective action if the truck begins to drift while forward collision warning alerts drivers if the vehicle sensors detect slower or stationary objects in the road ahead. If the driver is slow to respond, the system can automatically apply braking to help avoid a collision.
“The new VNL has integrated safety systems, which were designed into the vehicle from the start rather than added on,” Aronhalt says. “Many of our specs are also less fatiguing for our drivers. The bulk of our tractors are day cabs but making them as comfortable as we can, and spec’ing equipment for ease of use and ergonomics, is about keeping drivers focusing their attention outside the cab, and operating safely as much as possible.”
Aronhalt cites other examples as well including wide base single tires on Silver Eagle converter dollies that save fuel and make them much easier for drivers to move into position for coupling. “We also spec air release fifth wheels and sliding tandems for ergonomics and for driver safety,” he adds. “Overall, our Safety 365 program, which includes safety awareness training and recognition of safe performance, puts safety at the forefront of everything we do.”
AAA Cooper’s newest trailers from Great Dane and Vanguard are also equipped with air disc brakes. The fleet’s pup trailers feature roll-up rear doors, reinforced thresholds and heavier scuffbands to mitigate damage potential from continual forklift movement. The trailers are also equipped with Kinedyne double deck systems, logistics posts and interior sidewalls that allow strapping throughout the trailer. In addition, some trailers have motion controlled LED interior lights to minimize power consumption.
Before any safety or fuel efficiency technologies are adopted at AAA Cooper, the fleet conducts comprehensive evaluations, and it reviews MPG performance and safety data continuously. “We make sure we are getting the results we expected in lower accident rates, better MPG and lower maintenance costs,” Aronhalt says. “Drivers are also an integral part of testing any new technology, even prototypes. For any significant changes we’ve made in equipment, we’ve had drivers provide feedback on test equipment first in order to help us understand whether or not we should make a change.
“We also review all our suppliers, but we don’t change providers easily,” Aronhalt adds. “We look at all product ideas on the market, but once we have a supplier who understands that we are thorough, and that it’s not just about price but about quality and performance, we tend to work closely with them for the long haul.”
That approach is especially important in the extensive maintenance operation at AAA Cooper, which includes about 220 staff members at 40 facilities in 13 states. The company also offers fleet maintenance services to outside customers for all tractor, trailer and engine makes. The service offerings include standard and customized PM programs, annual inspections, repairs and major component overhauls.
AAA Cooper traces its roots to John H. “Red” Dove, who began in the transportation industry in the 1930s by working with his father hauling logs from the Alabama woods to sawmills. In 1951, he bought an interest in P.C. White Truck Lines, and in 1955 after purchasing the remaining ownership, he changed the name to AAA Motor Lines. In 1969, the operation grew with the acquisition of Cooper Transfer Company Inc., and in 1973 the two companies merged to form AAA Cooper Transportation. Today, the carrier is one of the largest LTL haulers in the U.S.
For Steve Aronhalt, a key part of the ongoing success of AAA Cooper is its commitment to equipping trucks with the latest technology for safety and efficiency. As a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who joined the company in 2012, he says that the attention to detail, safety and management that were keys to successful flying missions are skills that come in handy every day at the fleet.
“A lot of the military has carried over to civilian employment,” Aronhalt relates, “and how you interact with people and how to get them to operate in a team environment and support each other for the success of the company works the same way in trucking.”