Few trucking executives buy 50,000 trucks over the course of their careers, but Max Fuller has accomplished something even more unusual. On Aug. 5, the co-chairman and chief executive officer of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based U.S. Xpress took delivery of his 50,000th truck of a single make – Freightliner.
In a ceremony at U.S. Xpress’ headquarters, Fuller officially took possession of the 2010 Freightliner Cascadia 72-inch sleeper with Detroit Diesel DD15 engine. Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, also presented Fuller with a memento of the occasion – a Freightliner etched into a block of crystal. “It might be the only Freightliner you ever get for free,” Daum quipped as he handed the trophy to Fuller. Closing out the ceremony, Fuller handed the keys to the 2010 Cascadia to its driver, James Waldo, who has worked for U.S. Xpress and Southwest Motor Freight for 38 years.
In 1974, Fuller took over purchasing responsibilities for his father Clyde, owner of Southwest Motor Freight, representing the beginning of his relationship with Freightliner. Fuller recalls that Freightliner’s marketing materials then – just after the big OPEC oil embargo – touted the trucks’ fuel efficiency and light weight. Fuller’s first order was about 150 trucks, which was almost half the Southwest Motor Freight fleet.
Fuller continued to buy Freightliners when he and Patrick Quinn struck out on their own in 1985 to launch U.S. Xpress. As the company grew quickly, U.S. Xpress bought 3,000 or 4,000 trucks a year in some years. Fuller also emphasized the relationship with Freightliner by signing a 12-year exclusive agreement that began in the late 1980s.
Helping design products
“You have been a tremendous partner for us,” Daum told Fuller during the ceremony. Freightliner’s view of Fuller as a partner and not just a customer is quite real, says Mark Lampert, senior vice president-sales and marketing for Daimler Trucks North America. Perhaps the most striking example of this partnership was the development of the 70-inch Freightliner Condo in the early 1990s, he says.
Like Southwest Motor Freight, U.S. Xpress had used driver teams heavily, and Fuller complained that the flat-top sleeper Freightliner offered at the time just didn’t work well for team operations. So over a period of about six months, Fuller and 64 U.S. Xpress drivers helped Freightliner design the Freightliner Condo.
Over the years, U.S. Xpress has challenged other industry conventions, Lampert noted. Fuller is constantly implementing new technologies and concepts by being an early adopter of forward collision warning systems, automated transmissions, wide-base single tires and air disc brakes, he added.
“Our plan was to be the game changer,” Fuller said, adding to Lampert’s list the company’s early adoption of electronic engines, aerodynamic trailers and LED lighting. And it wasn’t just Freightliner that U.S. Xpress helped in product design, Fuller told CCJ. As an early Qualcomm customer, the carrier wrote much of the software Qualcomm offered to customers who were operating in an IBM server environment.
Through billions of miles and billions of gallons of diesel, Fuller has benefitted from the reliability and fuel efficiency of Freightliner trucks, Daum said. “Those are the attributes needed to get to the next 50,000.”
Fuller spoke to the strength of his ties to Freightliner. “We have been able to go through eight management changes at Freightliner and still maintain the relationship,” he quipped.
The 2010 Cascada U.S. Xpress received in the ceremony is one of about 30 Freightliners the carrier has taken delivery of that uses selective catalytic reduction, or SCR, for emissions control. The trucking company has about 300 more on order.