Saturday, May 24, 2014
What's behind RV driver shortage?
My guess? It's the same as the owner operator over the road trucking industry, lack of a real return on investment, low rates and no compensation for expenses, especially fuel.
There are numerous reasons for the driver shortage that is affecting the RV industry.
Officials from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association estimate that an additional 2,000 drivers are needed to deliver the 25,000 to 30,000 recreational vehicles that are sitting on lots in southern Michigan and northern Indiana, mostly in Elkhart County.
The problem could cost the industry as much as $500 million in lost sales in 2014, according to one industry official.
He believes ideas to help recruit drivers and improve laws to lessen the number of deliveries that require a commercial driver's license are all good steps.
But he also believes there are other major issues that need to be worked on.
"It's multi-layered," DeMeyer, president and owner of MDZ Trucking in Shipshewana, said. "There's got to be a lot of fixing and a lot of things to happen to not have a shortage in drivers."
He believes increasing pay for drivers and better cooperation from dealerships would help gain and retain drivers.
Doug Gaeddert, board chairman of the RVIA and a general manager at Forest River, estimates that shipments are anywhere from four to six weeks behind schedule.
For an industry that has been on an upswing the past four years after suffering through the recession, the issue is of great importance. There are more drivers today but not enough to keep up with the growing number of shipments.
RV shipments were at 165,700 in 2009 but could hit 339,000 this year, said Richard Curtin, a University of Michigan professor who studies the industry.
Pay is definitely an issue, according to DeMeyer, who also says that delivering RVs is not really a career for a person with a family and a mortgage to pay.
A driver without a CDL might gross $2,860 on a 2,200-mile trip to California, but $1,500 of that could easily be eaten up by fuel costs, DeMeyer said. In addition, there are costs for meals, hotels and insurance for the truck, he added.
DeMeyer said better pay would likely help solve the problem, but ultimately, those costs would be passed on to the consumer.
But there's another problem with some of the dealers. "A lot of the transporters have drivers that won't go back to dealers that make the driver wait two to three hours to check in a unit," DeMeyer said.
And unlike a tractor-trailer rig that can gain efficiencies by going both ways with a load of cargo, pickup trucks aren't as suitable for such purposes. Additionally, since the drivers are independent contractors, they have to keep track of literally every expense for tax purposes.
When DeMeyer was driving more than a decade ago, he said, it was and often still is a job for retirees.
DeMeyer said moving RVs by rail is really not an option. It was tried after Hurricane Katrina but many RVs were destroyed as glass broke and doors blew off while in transit. Gaeddert said having manufacturers hire their own drivers also would not likely fix the problem.
Forming a committee would make it possible to identify, prioritize and more effectively address the most critical objectives of the transporters, he added.
"It wouldn't solve issues such as the driver shortage overnight, but it would put a process and means in place to level things out and hopefully get out in front of problems before they become a crisis," Gaeddert said.