COVID-19’s disruption of the global supply chain pushed intermodal equipment at ports into storage. Since China’s manufacturing and demand have come back online, available chassis at some ports around the world have been nearly impossible to find.
“A lot of that equipment was in bad order,” said Doug Hoehn, executive vice president of chassis and containers for Milestone Equipment Holdings (Milestone), a large Missouri-based equipment lessor. “Some of it may be even in bad order to the point where it wasn’t worthwhile to even repair it and put it back into service.”
But that’s only part of the story behind chassis shortages. In early 2019, a year before COVID-19 sent shockwaves through the supply chain, the international shipping industry was reeling from the imposition of tariffs during the trade war between the United States and China. Both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach saw decreases in activity. That put a financial strain not only on the ports but the customers who use them — and caused chassis to go unused.
“Fast-forward to when the business levels on the West Coast significantly spiked between May and July,” said Hoehn. “Because all those chassis were pushed off and the equipment providers weren’t repairing any of those chassis while they were off site, they couldn’t react fast enough when the business returned.”
During the downturns, Milestone continued to repair equipment and keep it in service with fresh Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration certificates. When the demand began exceeding supply, truck drivers started leasing chassis on their own and companies like Milestone Equipment were ready to capitalize on that business.
Milestone uses PowerFleet telematics on its chassis to track location, and in some cases brake and tire wear, tire pressure and wheel-end temperatures. Hoehn said that during the height of COVID-19, location tracking was a necessity.
“We had to use the GPS to recover equipment that was not being returned and may have been abandoned somewhere. In Baltimore, we had a real problem with some customers that took our equipment, didn’t pay for it and then decided to run their own daily rental pool using it. Having GPS, we knew where that equipment was and that allowed us to react a lot faster. We can get it back rather than having to spend a lot of time and effort trying to find the equipment.”
Hoehn said that PowerFleet works tirelessly to understand the unique needs of each customer’s business so its integrated telematics system can help the business gain efficiencies in either a downturn or a tight market.
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