When it comes to selecting a truck model to use in the National Carriers fleet, the company’s president, Jim Franck, is quick to the point.
“Reliability and cost of ownership are key to me,” he said. “The key is to find a truck that gives you uptime, and a truck that drivers like to drive, and that truck has to have a low cost of ownership—otherwise it won’t make you money.”
Franck said he’s found the right balance with the Kenworth T680 with 76-inch sleeper, which has become the “standard” for the reefer division’s fleet. National Carriers operates 670 tractors, of which 70% are company-owned.
“The T680’s aerodynamics, reliability—and that of the Paccar MX-13 engine—coupled with driver acceptance, is what sold us,” Franck said. “From a dollars-and-cents standpoint, we’re seeing a 1-mpg improvement in fuel economy over the performance of our previous standard truck. Our fleet also is now equipped with APUs (auxiliary power units) and idle time has been reduced to less than 10%. That reduction represents about half of our savings—so all told we have a fleet average of 7.5 mpg, with our best drivers getting around 8.”
With most routes south of Interstate 80, National Carriers hauls beef in about 40% of its loads with the other 60% a combination of refrigerated, frozen, and dry loads. Its on-time delivery rate is exceptionally high, testament to the reliability of its equipment and diligence of its drivers.
National Carriers, known as the “Elite” Fleet, began transitioning into the T680 two years ago, purchasing the driver-friendly, aerodynamic trucks through MHC Kenworth–Dallas. The company’s latest T680s are specified with the 455-hp Paccar MX-13 engine and driven through the Eaton Fuller Advantage 10-speed automated transmission.
“We really spec’d these trucks with driver comfort in mind,” said Franck. “And we feel they contribute in part to our low driver turnover, which is well below the industry average.”
According to Franck, the T680s feature rotating tables so they can be used as desk top or dining table. The trucks also feature a drawer-style refrigerator/freezer, TV installation package, and inverter for converting DC power to AC power for use with microwaves and other appliances.
While reliable trucks are critical to National Carriers’ success, so is dealer support.
“MHC Kenworth has been a fantastic partner with us,” said Franck. “Their dealership locations fit our footprint. With a fleet as large as ours, there will also be issues, but how you handle them—and how fast you handle them—is the key ingredient and MHC bends over backwards for us, here and on the road.”
One of the first drivers to operate the T680 was Goldie Seymour, who has driven trucks for more than 40 years.
“You couldn’t get me out of this truck with a crowbar,” Seymour said. She originally began driving the T680 as a company driver, but then converted the truck into National’s to-own program.
According to Seymour, “Baby Blue,” as she calls her T680, has nearly 200,000 miles under the hood. “It’s the quietest truck I’ve ever driven in and it’s very smooth—a great ride,” she said. “The truck was also designed with women in mind; you can tell by the dash layout and seat travel. I’m 5’4” and can easily reach all the controls and pedals. That can’t be said about all trucks out there.”
Seymour said she was a little hesitant about the truck at the start since it was spec’d with an automated transmission. “I’m old school and had never driven an automated—not even in my car,” she said. “I’ve just always wanted full control of my vehicle. But I’ll tell you what: you can teach an old dog a new trick. I wouldn’t want to go back to a manual.”
As a “new” owner-operator, Seymour said she’s getting fuel mileage in the mid-7s to low 8s.
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