New Peterbilt Model 579s get a little extra in their spec package to appeal to the veteran drivers the company seeks to employ.

Custom Spec Targets Experienced Drivers

In an industry that’s striving to attract new, young talent into its working ranks, Kaedon Steinert and Hurricane Express are taking nearly the opposite approach.

Steinert is the owner of Hurricane Express, the refrigerated goods carrier headquartered in West Siloam Springs, Okla. Growth is on the fast track for the firm Steinert founded in 1989, for which he landed his own authority in 1992.

“We’re at 150 trucks now,” Steinert says of his all-Peterbilt fleet. “We’ll be at 200 by the end of the year.”

And if Steinert has his way, there will be an oldschool, veteran driver behind the wheel of every one of them. He knows he’s bucking conventional thinking. But take one look at the custom-spec’d Peterbilt Model 579s that make up the majority of his fleet and you’ll know that Steinert cares little about conventional thinking.

“All I can tell you is it’s worked,” says Steinert. “We haven’t changed our operations model in nearly 30 years and, in the last two years more than ever, we’ve really gone after that premium, experienced driver. And that’s why we do what we do to spec a truck that makes a driver happy.”

Core strategy

Steinert was raised in a trucking family in an era when the Peterbilt traditional conventional was king of the road. And make no mistake about it, he has fond memories of the Peterbilt long-haul legend, the Model 379, which made up the bulk of the Hurricane Express fleet until the truck was discontinued in 2007.

By the time Peterbilt launched the aerodynamic Model 579 in 2012, Steinert was on board with the innovative fuel and weight saver, especially when he saw that its quiet operation and comfortable cab appealed to the longhaul driver. Still fond of traditional styling, however, he found a middle ground — the Model 579 would be his truck of choice, but he would spec and customize it to appeal to the driver who was similarly fond of the classic styling.

“There were no hucks, no rivets,” he says of the Model 579. “It was a departure in terms of appearance. But they were so quiet inside — you could carry on a normal conversation at highway speed. Plus, with the increased headroom and at least a half-mile per gallon in fuel economy improvement, we were pleased.

“But the median age of my driver is 45 years old. Most of those guys have either driven or have wanted to drive a Model 379. So basically I do everything I can to at least remind them of that look.”

A 16-inch visor and a custom chrome bumper — both with visible rivets — are the most noticeable reminders Steinert adds to his Model 579s. Others are in the cab and sleeper, custom twists to what Steinert believes will create the best driver experience.

Steinert complements some of his old-school spec with innovative safety technology, such as the Bendix Wingman system.

“There’s certainly a trend toward drawing younger drivers, but I think most companies are not truly appreciative of what the 20- to 30-year driver has to offer,” Steinert says. “They are safe drivers and they want to be productive. We try to get 150,000 miles a year out of a truck. Somebody who’s been driving 20-30 years, that’s what they’re used to doing. That’s what they want. So that’s a big thing with drivers who come in here — they want to work for a company that will give them miles.

“And I don’t want to sound arrogant here but a lot of companies don’t know how to treat a driver and spec a truck to make a driver happy. What matters to a driver is how it drives, but there are other things as well. So I’ll sit in one of our trucks, a couple times a month, looking around, going, ‘OK, what am I missing, is there anything I can do in here to make our drivers’ experience better?’”

“It’s the three-legged stool,” he adds. “Miles, money, truck. We try to give it all to them.”

579 UltraLofts on order

Steinert is excited about the new Peterbilt Model 579 UltraLoft. He expects it to appeal to both individual and team operations.

“I have 100 UltraLofts on order,” he says. “The drivers are really going to enjoy the flat floor — that’s a huge plus. And the taller drivers are going to greatly appreciate the ability to stand up right out of the driver seat. And for the team operations, we ordered all the UltraLofts with an upper bunk, and the increased sleeper height makes it so both bunks feel very roomy.”

Steinert also expects to take delivery soon on a few classically styled Model 389s, which will receive the Hurricane Express custom treatment for high-achieving veteran drivers.

“I’ve got quite a passion for our Peterbilts,” Steinert says. “We’ll take delivery on 120 trucks this year and every one of them will be unique. The reaction I like is when our drivers come back and tell me how nice our trucks are. The feedback from our drivers has been phenomenal.”