This nice news release from Michelin showcases a new chassis repair program from Michelin. Chassis repair has been an issue for years. when chassis are rented there is no motivation to repair them. The ocean carriers used to own a lot of chassis, to help get their intermodal containers on the road. But when owners of chassis became liable for damages caused by accidents from poorly repaired trailers, the ocean carriers sold them all. Temporarily a few years ago, truckers were scrambling to find chassis.
Since then chassis ‘gray pools’ have been created at ports. Truckers could pick up a proper chassis there, then return it when the trip was done. Presumably maintenance of the trailers was to be done in the gray pool yards, while the trailers waited for a user. But even that proved problematic. Unions associated with the ports wanted to be sure they did not lose jobs to outside, nonunion firms. Ports in the Los Angeles area had work stoppages and court actions over this problem. Other players in the gray pools were trailer leasing companies.
In Europe, chassis are owned by trucking companies, so there’s no question of who’s liable, both for accident damages and for repairs. There most truckers are employees of the trucking firms. In the US, most truckers, particularly in port drayage, are owner-operators, not employees, and so are only paid for the actual haulage they do. Here in the US, trucking firms won’t put up the capital to own too many chassis; they are already operating with low margins, and they haven’t had to before.
Chris and I have been writing about intermodal chassis for a number of years (An example) , and it is still a topic worth reviewing. As one editor mentioned to us, intermodal chassis are “the gift that keeps on giving” for academics. The current decline in imports via container on the West Coast of the US makes it a bit less interesting right now, because no one is having trouble finding chassis.
But keeping them in repair and road-worthy is a good place to cheat. When a chassis breaks down on the road, the driver has no recourse but to fix it. She is then paying for maintenance that should have been handled on the chassis pool yard. And it’s not economical for semi owners to also own a chassis unless they are committing to always do that kind of load handling.
In the chassis pools, it’s easy for a trucker to drop a marginal chassis, about to need repair; for instance a new tire set. And it’s easy for the yard crew to send out a bad chassis because of an improperly performed inspection. But that is much less likely when the chassis are not needed instantly, as they were back a few years, and when there’s a highly qualified maintenance crew on duty.
I think it’s a great idea for Michelin to provide this service. With the online tracking and dispatching, records are kept; the truck operator is assured that the unit is repaired to the TMC standard; and the records are electronically available, preventing issues over paperwork. It should be a win if it isn’t too expensive relative to repairing in the yard.