Dustin Koehl, SVP of sales at U.S. Xpress, joins this week’s episode of Taking the Hire Road to discuss U.S. Xpress’ Variant Model fleet, a digitally orchestrated fleet, with host Jeremy Reymer, founder and CEO of DriverReach. They also dive into a recent U.S. Xpress report about freight demand and trucking capacity issues, as well as Koehl’s work on the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) subcommittee on autonomous trucks.
Koehl said Variant derives its name from the Latin variantem, roughly meaning “to change,” which aptly describes what U.S. Xpress hoped to achieve when developing the independent division in 2019.
Variant was launched two years ago with just five trucks but has since surpassed 1,200 seated tractors and is on track to hit 1,500 by the end of the year. Powered by its fleet orchestration platform, Vector, its ecosystem of interconnected algorithms and services helps position Variant trucks strategically to satisfy demand and will also inform future order acceptance, along with each order’s relative impact on the broader network, U.S. Xpress says. Vector automatically reorchestrates the Variant fleet to dynamically adapt to ever-changing road events.
Koehl describes freight as a high-touch industry, creating a fun environment to blend technology and people. In fact, the Variant team consists of thought leaders from a variety of industries.
“We have many Ph.D. data scientists from outside the industry working for Variant,” Koehl said. “These are data scientists from the hospitality and tourism sector as well as from the airline industry that have entered our space to solve the really complex problems that our drivers face today.”
U.S. Xpress is tapping into leading universities as well. Variant operates in Midtown Atlanta, in the heart of the city’s tech center near Georgia Tech. But the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based, asset-based truckload carrier has also partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Transportation & Logistics, utilizing its freight lab to help improve driver efficiency.
According to U.S. Xpress, MIT graduate students in the Supply Chain Management master’s program are using statistical modeling and artificial intelligence to study company data, including GPS stats for more than 7,500 tractors. Students are also analyzing loaded and unloaded data for nearly 15,000 trailers, driver hours of service, shipper rates, appointment times, and arrival and departure trends.
“There has been such an interest in the trucking industry in recent years because we’re seeing just how critical it is to the supply chain in this country and really all over the world,” Koehl said. The MIT partnership allows for more truckers to participate in its freight lab research to study driver utilization.
“If it wasn’t for trucking, the closest that I would get to MIT would probably be watching ‘Good Will Hunting.’”
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