It is safe to say that John Pope is equally focused on the present and the future. For the chairman of Cargo Transporters, Inc., the ongoing success of the truckload dry freight carrier has always been rooted in making effective decisions today while also considering its needs for the long haul.
The origin of Cargo Transporters is a good example. Started in the 1960s as a truck renting and leasing operation, the company found its niche supplying vehicles for the private fleets of furniture manufacturers. As those producers moved away from ownership, Cargo Transporters developed into a carrier of choice for shippers looking to outsource transportation.
Based in Claremont, North Carolina, Cargo Transporters provides truckload, dry-van service under 48-state common and contract authority, with an emphasis on lanes east of the Rockies. The carrier offers contract, dedicated, expedited and time-definite freight transportation services.
“Cargo Transporters is a true asset-based carrier,” Pope says. “We control the assets and our drivers are all direct employees. Shippers work directly with us to move their freight on company trucks. Those approaches allow us to better manage fluctuations, capacity demands and equipment availability for our customers.”
In the Cargo Transporters fleet are 550 tractors and 1,800 trailers. Power units are all Freightliner Cascadia models, including new 2020 New Cascadia units. Trailers consist of equal numbers of Great Dane and Wabash National dry vans. The fleet travels more than 58 million miles per year.
“Like many trucking companies, we have long-term relationships with suppliers,” Pope says. “When we’re involved with each other we can have input and get products that are designed to meet our needs.
“One of our goals is to field an ultra-modern, technologically advanced tractor-trailer fleet,” Pope continues. “With a four-year trade cycle and a plan to replace between 120 and 150 units annually, our average tractor is only two years old. Our trailers, which we trade about every eight years, are also relatively young.”
Equipment specifications at Cargo Transporters, according to Pope, reflect the company’s desire to address shipper needs as well as fuel efficiency, safety and driver retention. For example, composite plate wall trailers have been the carrier’s standard for 15 years because they offer high volume capacity. Additionally, the lightweight specs of some of their tractors are aimed at lowering weight to accommodate heavy loads.
A SmartWay-certified carrier, Cargo Transporters’ fuel efficiency-enhancing technologies include complete aerodynamic packages, wide-base single drive and trailer tires, automated manual transmissions, and battery powered cab and sleeper HVAC systems.
“When we look at a technology that can improve MPG we often equip a small number of vehicles to evaluate its efficiency,” Pope says. “If something works on five to ten tractors or trailers, it’s likely to be adopted for the entire fleet.
“While we need hard numbers to determine the ROI on a fuel-saving solution, we’re a lot more liberal with safety technology,” Pope continues. “In that area we’re more likely to invest without all the data if it has only the potential to prevent an accident.”
As an example of this safety technology, air disc brakes are standard on all tractor and trailer axles and ABS is spec’ed with automatic traction control. Pope also notes the use of LED headlamps, heated mirrors and anti-spray mud flaps to improve visibility, as well as cab mounted air actuated fifth wheel release systems. Detroit Assurance safety technologies are also specified for all tractors in the Cargo Transporters fleet, including the latest version on 2020 New Cascadia models. The solution includes Active Brake Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Departure Protection.
Cargo Transporters also equips its tractors with Lytx DriveCam systems. “We were an early adopter and one of the first truckload carriers to use the in-cab video system,” Pope says. “There was some initial skepticism among drivers, but very little pushback once they saw it as a tool for learning how to drive more safely, and they heard stories about how the video could back them up if they were not responsible for an accident.”
Like most long-haul carriers, Cargo Transporters is focused on addressing driver recruitment and retention. Its tractors, for instance, are equipped with a number of amenities, including premium seats and sleepers with refrigerators, as well as satellite radio and Bluetooth systems.
“EpicVue in-cab satellite TV has also been an integral part of our driver retention program,” Pope says. “Currently, about half of our drivers are leasing the systems and we subsidize those costs and pay for the subscriptions. Retention is about many things but giving drivers the ability to connect to the world has been a game changer.”
Another way that Cargo Transporters has been approaching driver recruiting and retention is through its “Acres of Diamonds… Focus on Home” program. The initiative allows drivers to be closer to home when they finish a shift or to stay home for a few more hours before reporting to work. In addition, if there is a schedule change or scheduled vehicle maintenance, drivers who live closer to a terminal can go home and relax with their families.
“‘Acres of Diamonds… Focus on Home’ is aimed at lowering our already low turnover rate of 42% because we believe that drivers who live in or near our terminal communities are more likely to stay with the company,” Pope explains. “The program was named for a story mentioned by one of our drivers about the misfortunes of seeking opportunities elsewhere instead of focusing on your own backyard. As soon as we heard its message, we knew we needed to focus on hiring locally.”
Cargo Transporters is applying its recruiting approach to technicians as well. “Technician recruitment is challenging and part of the issue is the competition with dealers and other fleets for qualified people,” Pope relates. “That’s led us to re-evaluate what we offer and to address some of the same things we do for drivers, such as offering competitive pay and benefits, the latest technology and a clean and safe work environment.”
About 80% of the maintenance for the Cargo Transporters fleet is handled by a staff of 45 people at company shops in Claremont and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The balance is outsourced to dealers and other service providers using national accounts to ensure pricing and quality. For the past five years the maintenance operation has been managed using Enrich software that enables the company to customize preventive maintenance programs, process work orders, track OEM and aftermarket warranty coverage and manage parts inventory.
“We use TMW Systems enterprise management software,” Pope says. “It’s important to have a robust solution because we use our own staff 24/7/365 to meet operational needs. We’re also in the process of replacing an older trailer tracking system with SkyBitz technology. We’ve installed units on about 150 new trailers and retrofitted 800 others this year.
“When we first used trailer tracking it was about knowing our equipment status to help reduce the size of our trailer pool,” Pope says. “Today, it still helps enhance our fleet’s productivity and it provides the added value of being able to give shippers visibility into the real-time status of their loads and deliveries.”
Looking to the future
The ability to foresee how a technology or program can enhance success has been a hallmark of the management approach at Cargo Transporters for many years. Pope continues to be focused on the future.
“It will be interesting to see what happens with autonomous vehicles,” Pope says. “From our perspective, automation can be a safety technology but not a driver replacement solution. However, it might become part of an overall approach to retention and recruiting, so we’re keeping a close eye on it for the future.”
Cargo Transport’s truck and trailer specifications
- Model: 2020 Freightliner New Cascadia; 126-in. sleeper cab
- Wheelbase: 229 in.
- Engine: Detroit DD15; 400 [email protected] RPM, 1750 lb./[email protected] RPM
- Transmission: Detroit DT12; 12-speed direct drive automated manual
- Driveline: Meritor; RPL35 main, RPL25 interaxle
- Front Axle: Meritor MGFS+
- Power Steering: TRW THP-60
- Rear Axle: Meritor MT-40-14X; 2.28 ratio
- Rear Suspension: Freightliner Airliner
- Hubs: ConMet Preset Plus aluminum
- Brakes: Meritor EX-L air disc
- ABS: WABCO 6S/6M; ATC
- Wheels: Alcoa aluminum; LVL One steer, Ultra One drive
- Tires: Michelin; 275/80R22.5 X Line Energy steer, 445/50R22.5 X One drive
- Fifth Wheel: Fontaine No-Slack II 7000 Series; air slide
- Air Compressor: Bendix BA-921, 19.0 CFM
- Air Dryer: WABCO System Saver; heated
- Fan Clutch: Horton DriveMaster Advantage; on/off
- Batteries: (4) NorthStar, 4600 CCA
- Starter: Delco 39MT+
- Alternator: Delco 40-SI, 275 amp
- Coolant Hoses: Gates Blue Stripe
- Fuel/Water Separator: Davco; heated
- Electrical/Lighting: Phillips Lectraflex cable; Truck-Lite LED
- Fuel Tanks: 100/120-gal. aluminum; 23-gal. DEF
- Model: 2020 Great Dane Champion CP, composite plate dry van
- Length: 53-ft.
- Landing Gear: Jost A451
- Axles: Hendrickson Maxx 22T
- Suspension: Hendrickson HKANT
- Wheel Ends: Hendrickson RTR
- Brakes: Hendrickson air disc
- ABS: WABCO 4S/2M Easy Stop
- Brake Valves: Bendix
- Tires: 445/50R22.5 Bridgestone Greatec R197
- Wheels: Alcoa aluminum
- Tire Inflation System: Hendrickson Tiremaax Pro
- Lighting & Electrical: Grote LED Lights