TRALA business sessions tackle private fleet growth, electrification

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Updated Apr 21, 2024
Steve Tam and Tom Moore at TRALA Annual Meeting
Steve Tam (left) with ACT Research and Tom Moore (right) of the National Private Truck Council speak during the TRALA Annual Meeting Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz.

A busy morning at the 2024 Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) Annual Meeting Tuesday concluded with business sessions on the trucking economy and ordering projections, and alternative fuels.

The first session was led by Steve Tam of ACT Research and Tom Moore of the National Private Truck Council.

Tam kicked off the segment by providing an update of the current Class 8 truck market, showcasing how truck orders were good in the first quarter but are likely to regress as the year continues due to lower demand. Tam said the for-hire truck market has suffered from poor freight rates and volumes for the last year, and as such as unable to make significant investment in new equipment. He said the private fleet market is driving most truck ordering at this time and will likely continue to do so for the remainder of the year.

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Looking into 2025, Tam is more bullish, both for for-hire carriers and the market at large. He said freight rates are just starting to elevate out of this most recent cycle trough and should start posting year over year monthly gains later this year. That progress, coupled with carriers’ preference to pre-buy ahead of EPA 2027 regulations, means the truck market should enjoy and extended sales peak in the next two years.

And most of those sales will go to private fleets.

Moore followed Tam Tuesday and provided data showcasing how much of the commercial truck market is controlled by private carriers. Up until recently, Moore said private carriers were responsible for about two thirds of the market. But in the aftermath of the pandemic and the shifting business landscape it has created, that market share number has bumped up to 70%. Moore cited several resources private carriers were able to leverage to earn more business, including pay. He said private carrier survey data indicates driver salaries are much higher among private fleets than their for-hire contemporaries, which has enabled those fleets to conquest and retain more new business in recent years.

TRALA panel on electrificationFrom left: Steve Slesinski, Dana Corporation; Mike Roeth, NACFE; Brad Wham, Orange EV; and Sean Henebry, Kenworth; discuss truck electrification and adoption during the TRALA Annual Meeting Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Alternative power potential

The final business session Tuesday was a panel discussion about alternative fuels led by Dana’s Steve Slesinski, featuring NACFE’s Mike Roeth, Orange EV’s Brad Wham and Sean Henebry of Kenworth Truck Company.

Roeth’s comments focused on NACFE’s Run on Less programs and vast research into alternative fuels and propulsion solutions under consideration by the industry. Similar to Navistar President and CEO Mathius Carlbaum, Roeth said his organization has become increasingly bullish on electric trucks in recent years and sees them as a better solution for decarbonizing the trucking industry than it did earlier this decade. He said the technology’s biggest barrier to entry is and will continue to be charging infrastructure, but said when that problem is solved the technology could prove very valuable.

Other technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cell, could earn market share too, though Roeth said attempting to predict what solutions ultimately make sense for trucking is impossible at this time. “It’s like we’re in the top of the third inning and people are asking us what we thought of the baseball game,” he said.

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Wham and Henebry followed and provided summaries of their electric vehicles their companies have brought to market and the applications where they are seeing the most adoption. Both men said their advice to end user customers and to the TRALA members who serve them, would be to start small and scale up. Find technologies that make the most sense from a performance and TCO perspective and invest their first with a few pieces of equipment.

Wham said customers who are seriously interested in considering electric vehicles probably already know the applications where they’d implement them, they’ve just yet to take the leap. Henebry agreed, and said customers who start small with minor successes are more likely to continue their adoption journey voluntarily as the technology and infrastructure improve, rather than being pushed by regulations.

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