Sometimes, a little ingenuity can open up opportunities that can totally change a business. Such was the case for World Trade Distribution, a fourth-generation family-operated provider of international freight handling, storage, and transportation services to companies that import and export through the Port of Houston.
A couple years back, the company decided to pursue what it saw as a wide-open market opportunity. One out of every 20 containers coming into the port is overweight, according to Jeff Joachim, president of World Trade Distribution. When those containers are loaded onto conventional trucks, the combined weight is too high for legal transport on surface roads. That meant the containers had to be opened and broken down into lighter loads before leaving the port—which resulted in additional handling and extra charges of between $2,000 and $3,000 per container.
Joachim realized that if he could obtain a lighter truck, he'd be able to haul many of the overweight containers the 24 miles to his facility for sorting and processing, eliminating the double handling. So he talked to truck manufacturer Kenworth about designing a "featherweight" truck that could haul a heavier container and still be within legal limits. The truck they jointly developed weighs less than 14,000 pounds, compared with about 18,000 pounds for conventional trucks. That means the vehicle can haul an additional 4,000 pounds of payload.
Joachim started with four featherweight trucks in February 2014 and added another two trucks this year, both of which are 300 pounds lighter than their predecessors. How did World Trade and Kenworth pare so much weight from the trucks? There were a number of steps involved. For instance, they opted for disc brakes instead of drums, which saved 1,500 pounds. They installed tanks made of aluminum, rather than a heavier metal, and they eliminated the passenger seat. They also moved the battery box to allow shorter—and thus, lighter—cables to be used. World Trade even makes it a point to assign only drivers who weigh less than 200 pounds to operate the featherweights.
"We went through the entire truck and got rid of everything we did not need. We also moved what we could to over the front axle to better (distribute) the weight," reports Joachim.
A more powerful engine was added to accommodate the heavier loads, while an all air-suspension system provides a comfortable ride. Joachim says his drivers claim it is the most confortable truck they've ever driven.
The featherweight truck allows for a maximum payload of 56,000 pounds, which has enabled World Trade Distribution to capture a large part of the overweight container business at the port. "We have been able to increase revenue by about 15 percent with these trucks," Joachim says.
In addition to receiving imports, World Trade Distribution also hauls its customers' exports to the ports. Using the featherweight truck has allowed some customers to load freight that would normally require 10 containers (because of its weight) into eight containers—saving the cost of the additional two containers.
Based on the company's success with the trucks, Joachim plans to add more featherweight vehicles to his 30-truck fleet, while continuing to work with Kenworth to further reduce the cab weight. "Over the next few years, I plan to go 100 percent to this kind of truck," he says.