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Chinese get a front-seat look at U.S. trucking

Executives tour State Line company

Executives tour State Line company

January 16, 2008|By DON AINES

STATE LINE, Pa. - Mi Wenju climbed behind the wheel of a double tractor-trailer Tuesday, turned over the diesel engine and drove the rig around the Con-way Freight Service Center, successfully circling the building to a round of applause.

"I think he's driven a truck before," said Warren Hoemann, senior vice president of American Trucking Associations.

"I'm clapping because I got my equipment back," said Con-way Chief Operating Officer David Miller.

Mi, the deputy manager for Beijing Xianglong Assets Management Co., was one of a group of Chinese trucking executives visiting Con-way to learn about the American trucking industry. Of particular interest were double trailers, not currently allowed on Chinese roads, Hoemann said.

"They are much like the United States before the Interstate Highway System," Hoemann said. While China has an export-driven economy, its growing middle class will require more domestic shipping, meaning an improved road system and distribution network, he said.

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"To do that takes management of equipment and management of information," Hoemann said. Sixty-nine percent of freight tonnage in the United States is moved by truck, but the figure is 90 percent in China, he said.

Sponsored by the China Road Transport Association (CRTA), the delegation saw how Con-way manages freight from customer service, dispatching and tracking, to the 164-door loading area where forklifts moved pallets of goods into the trailers for shipment. Service Center Manager Steven Sibbio said the facility handles an average of 3.2 million pounds of freight a day.

China's government understands the importance of transportation to economic growth, Hoemann said, spending $100 billion a year on road construction. By contrast, the most recent U.S. federal highway bill appropriated $286 billion over five years for construction and maintenance, he said.

China has built about half as many roads in seven years as this country has in the past 60 years, Miller said.

"We couldn't even patch our roads in that amount of time," Miller said.

Yang Xue Feng, vice director of the Liao Ning Province Transportation Management Bureau, asked through an interpreter why the drivers all appeared to be 40 or older; about their education; and how pay differs between supervisors, drivers and dock workers.

"When I got into the business, the average was ... an eighth-grade education," Miller said. Employees now average about two years of college, he said.

As for the age of drivers, Miller said younger drivers usually do pickup and delivery, while older drivers with families prefer fixed routes and regular schedules. Con-way employs about 25,000 people in North America and has an Asian presence with Menlo Logistics, he said.

"For exports and imports, China has some of the largest ports in the world and the best technology - even better than the U.S.," Mi said through an interpreter. China is learning how to integrate ocean, rail and truck transportation systems, he said.

There are about 200,000 trucking companies in China, ranging from firms with thousands of trucks to companies with just one, said CRTA Chairman Mingde Yao.

The delegation also met with officials at the American Trucking Associations' headquarters in Arlington, Va., and with U.S. Department of Transportation officials to discuss regulatory issues such as weight limits, safety, enforcement and taxation, Hoemann said.

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