Friday, February 6, 2009

Texas tea

The negative headline reads like so many others we’ve seen lately.

“Martin Petroleum files layoff notice, just in case.”

The Pompano Beach company has filed notice with Florida that it may soon lay off 207 employees in March.

Across the country, many smaller and mid-size fuel-related oil companies are hurting less than a year after some companies posted record profits.

Flying J seems poised to shut down its Big West refinery in Bakersfield, CA, for good, just months after it prepared for a major expansion. Such a closure will mean hundreds of jobs lost. The Land Line story is available here.

One industry insider told me the Hook got caught with “wet barrels,” an industry term for oil bought for a price considerably higher than its current worth.

As 2008’s dramatic rise and fall of oil prices has taught us, prices we pay at the pump are set by many variables, including the futures market and manipulation by oil producers at the spigot, like OPEC.

Who knows what the coming year’s diesel/fuel prices will bring. Supply and demand will be closely tied to the economy, as will prices.

For Flying J and others, jobs will depend on it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

LoneStar stars in ‘Wired’

It’s not often that seemingly (and deceptively) mundane technology makes an appearance in Wired, the digital world’s go-to magazine of what’s cool and hot. But that honor belongs to Navistar’s signature large car, the retro-futuristic LoneStar.

In an article titled “An 18-Wheeler That Feels Like Home,” writer Keith Barry describes the design planning that went into the tractor’s spacious interior. The designers had one of those “Doh!” moments, when they realized truckers spend much of their lives in their rigs, and that for many the experience, well, sucks.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Land Line about designing cab and sleeper interiors, and it’s heartening to see that the industry is beginning to approach the complex problem with some new eyes in their factory products.

The custom sleeper builders have long taken the approach that a sleeper is a living area, a small apartment really, and not a glorified pop-up trailer. And my friend and OOIDA member Dave Henry has gone them one better, at least for Kenworths, with his sleek, wider and roomier custom studios. Click here to check them out.

The next threshold for every sleeper builder will be to provide efficient, lightweight and reliable auxiliary power to reduce idling. We’ve reduced emissions through a man-on-the-moon kind of intense focus on the problem; wouldn’t it be swell if Wired was able to report on a successful aux power program in a year or so?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dazed and confused about the stimulus?

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are tossing around some staggering numbers these days. It’s no wonder that people are feeling frustrated or confused about the sheer size and intent behind the proposed economic stimulus package.

“Is this a bailout?” “Who gets the money?” and “Where’s mine?” are among the many questions received by OOIDA, Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now and we appreciate them.

While there is no direct money set aside for trucking, a stimulus package aimed at boosting construction, infrastructure, science and health care will lead to trucking loads that pay.

Some are wondering why the $819 billion stimulus bill contains “only $30 billion” for transportation infrastructure projects. These people are right in saying that is not nearly enough to address the problems at hand such as crumbling interstates and deficient bridges.

The short explanation is that the stimulus is not designed to fix the nation’s transportation infrastructure problems. That fix has to come in the form of a completely separate act of Congress.

By definition, the stimulus bill is a short-term proposal aimed at creating jobs and increasing the flow of money through the economy.

Anything longer-term, such as expanding lane capacity, rebuilding interstates and replacing deficient bridges falls under the definition of transportation funding reauthorization.

Congress is working on the reauthorization simultaneously with the stimulus talk, so it can get a bit confusing.

Just keep in mind that all large-scale funding issues for transportation are being tackled separately from the so-called stimulus.

A typical long-term reauthorization provides for approximately five years of transportation policy and funding.

The current reauthorization known as SAFETEA-LU became law in 2005 after a couple of years’ worth of debate, and it is set to expire Sept. 30.

Because the next reauthorization is likely to be massive and contain record amounts for highways and bridges, it could take time to hammer out.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has challenged his colleagues to hit the deadline, but time will tell.

If the reauthorization does not pass by the deadline, we would continue functioning under the provisions of SAFETEA-LU.

Stimulating, isn’t it?