EXECUTIVES at Grupo Transportes Monterrey (GTM) spent years building a robust fleet maintenance capability. That effort is helping the trucking conglomerate weather one of the toughest Mexico economies in recent decades.
The maintenance operation is credited with keeping the company's fleet of more than 1,800 tractors running at peak efficiency. One of the largest trucking entities in Mexico, Grupo Transportes Monterrey built a network of maintenance facilities across Mexico.
“We're doing all we can to ensure that our tractors and trailers run as efficiently as possible,” says Carlos Mujica Campos, commercial director of the specialized cargoes division at Grupo Transportes Monterrey. “Operating costs were up more than 22% in 2009, but we worked hard to contain those costs. Prices increased for just about everything, including fuel, parts, and even maintenance itself.
“Fortunately, we have built a significant in-house fleet maintenance system that helps keep our operating costs under control. A GTM subsidiary handles major vehicle maintenance at centralized shops in Monterrey and Mexico City. We also have smaller shops for minor repairs at most of our terminals.”
The maintenance network serves a diverse fleet operation that was assembled over more than 60 years. GTM consists of five trucking entities: Auto Lineas America SA de CV, Transportes Monterrey SA de CV, Transportes Jorge Ancer SA de CV, Transportes Lopez e Hijos SA de CV, and Transportes Minerva SA de CV. Operations are focused in Mexico's industrial triangle that encompasses Monterrey, Nuevo Leon; Mexico City; and Guadalajara, Jalisco.
Pablo Martinez Montemayor established Transportes Monterrey in 1960 as dry freight hauler based in Monterrey. During the regulated years, the carrier was limited to transporting freight only between Monterrey and Mexico City. By the 1980s, Montemayor and his management team had initiated a diversification effort that brought an expansion into liquid and dry bulk and refrigerated cargoes.
They launched Transportes Jorge Ancer, a tank truck fleet that was created just to serve the chemical market. That same year, GTM bought Transportes Lopez e Hijos, a diversified trucking company that had been in business for five decades. Transportes Lopez e Hijos handled liquid chemicals and dry freight.
Auto Lineas America, a dry freight carrier that provides dedicated and less-than-truckload service, was acquired in 1986.
The most recent addition came in 2006, when GTM bought Transportes Minerva, a tank truck carrier that specializes in liquid and dry foodgrade cargoes.
“Each of these companies runs independently,” Fernando J Bernal Gonzalez, director of sales & marketing for Transportes Monterrey and Auto Lineas America. “Each carrier has its own management team that sets objectives based on the market focus of that fleet. Our overriding objective at GTM is to achieve steady, controlled growth throughout the operation.”
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The acquisitions and startups enabled GTM to build a broad portfolio of trucking services as Mexico's economy grew and diversified over the past couple of decades. Liquid and dry bulk products account for about 40% of the cargo transported by the GTM carriers, and much of that is moving internationally.
“The size and diversity of GTM has become a very real benefit,” Bernal says. “The range of trucking operations gives us the ability to cover many different markets. It makes us a very strong competitor in the Mexico market.”
Mujica adds: “Over the past year — during one of the most difficult markets we've faced — specialized cargoes did better than dry freight. Plastic pellet volumes stayed about the same in 2009 as in 2008. Chemical shipments were reasonably good for us.”
About a third of the GTM tank truck activity is international, and much of it can be attributed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “NAFTA has been a big success for us,” Bernal says. “Import/export activity is a big part of our business today.”
GTM trucking operations have been very successful at building interline partnerships with US carriers. “We're happy with the interline partnerships,” Mujica says. “We know the Mexico market, and our US partners know the market in the United States. We're all focusing on what we do best.”
Key chemical hauling partnerships at Transportes Jorge Ancer were forged with Transport Service Co, Slay Transportation Co Inc, and Trimac Transportation. Transportes Lopez e Hijos works with Oakley Transport Inc (foodgrade liquids) and Union Pacific Railroad (rail movements of Bulktainer tank containers).
Transportes Lopez e Hijos built a strong partnership with Bulkmatic Transport Company as the primary Mexican carrier serving Bulkmatic de Mexico's eight transload facilities. The partnership started in 1996
when Bulkmatic launched its Mexico transload operation. Plastic pellets shipped by rail from the United States are the primary cargo handled at the Bulkmatic transload locations.
“We began working with Bulkmatic when they launched their operation in Mexico, and we built a very good relationship with them,” Mujica says. “We see plenty of growth potential for the future as the US and Mexico economies recover.”
Transportes Lopez e Hijos and Transportes Jorge Ancer also have benefitted from growth in liquid and dry bulk shipments to and from the Tampico, Tamaulipas and Vera Cruz, Vera Cruz. Other GTM carriers serve the ports of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan and Manzanillo, Colima.
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GTM and its fleet entities have C-TPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership against Terrorism) certification to facilitate shipments between Mexico and the United States. Dispatchers at Transportes Jorge Ancer and Transportes Lopez e Hijos closely monitor all of the interline shipments.
Mujica says that the GTM carriers usually can turn an interline partner's trailer within a day or two after delivering the inbound load. Most of the interline trailers return empty to the United States. However, GTM companies are able to arrange some foodgrade backhauls because Transportes Minerva has a network of foodgrade wash racks that are Coke and kosher certified.
Interline shipments are handled by some of the best drivers at Transportes Jorge Ancer and Transportes Lopez e Hijos. Drivers who handle hazardous materials must be at least 30 years old, and all of the drivers go through a rigorous selection and training regime.
“We probably hire one in 10 truck driver applicants,” Bernal says. “We want to make sure that we can perform well for the Fortune 500 companies that we serve.”
Faced with a need for more well-qualified drivers, GTM established its own driver school in Monterrey. Even newly hired experienced drivers spend at least a month undergoing training to handle some of the more specialized tank cargoes. Younger drivers with little trucking experience may be in training for a couple of years.
Training continues long after a truck driver finishes the initial program. Refresher training is required two times a year for all GTM drivers. Sessions last up to a week.
Safety is a focal point of the training effort, and much of the training is modeled on customer safety programs. Weekly safety meetings are conducted at each terminal.
The safety effort goes well beyond the classroom. Drivers are assigned to well-specified tractors, many of which are less than five years old. The maximum tractor age for the fleet is 10 years. GTM bought 500 new tractors over the past three years.
Kenworth T800s are the fleet standard at GTM and the carriers under its umbrella. The tractors are specified for tough service at high gross combination weights — up to 75 tonnes (165,346 pounds) for a doubles train with air suspensions for every axle but the steering axle.
Tractors (both sleeper and daycab models) are specified with 450-horsepower Cummins engines and 18- and 10-speed EatonFuller transmissions. Hard service calls for tractors with double frame rails and Meritor tandem-drive axles rated at 46,000 pounds.
Product-handling equipment includes Gardner Denver blowers on tractors pulling dry bulk trailers and Gardner Denver stainless steel foodgrade pumps on tractors in liquid edibles service. For chemical hauling, Mexico customers provide pumps at the loading and offloading locations.
GTM owns just a small number of stainless steel chemical trailers that are used to serve specific customers. Most of the chemical trailers handled by the GTM companies belong to the interline partners.
The typical chemical trailer in the GTM operation was built by Polar Tank Trailer LLC or Brenner Tank LLC. Typical capacity is 25,000 liters (6,604 gallons) for tandem-axle units. Tri-axle trailers dedicated to either chemical or foodgrade service have capacities up to 43,000 liters (11,359 gallons).
Well-specified and well-maintained equipment operated by well-trained drivers have proven to be a winning combination for GTM. These factors have left GTM well positioned to benefit as the economy improves across the NAFTA region.