US freight trucking: 2018 war in containers

Written by By Donkle Spaeth, Special to CNN Los Angeles, California When Donkle Spaeth started importing trucks, they were washed and painted and looked like run-of-the-mill shipping vehicles. “They weren’t full-color shiny trucks,” says…

US freight trucking: 2018 war in containers

Written by By Donkle Spaeth, Special to CNN Los Angeles, California

When Donkle Spaeth started importing trucks, they were washed and painted and looked like run-of-the-mill shipping vehicles.

“They weren’t full-color shiny trucks,” says Spaeth, president of Houseboats, Inc., a fast-growing truck broker based in Los Angeles. “They were rusty, diesel-stained vehicles. If we bought them in three or four years, they would have been old 80s.”

But then came the crash, and reshoring, and the scrapping of trucks, reflecting the very boom-and-bust nature of the trucking business.

Today, truck brokers are cutting corners by relying on low-cost imported trucks, making transporting goods — whether from LA to Portland or L.A. to New York — a lot less expensive than buying U.S.-manufactured ones.

With over a thousand trucks, houses on all four coasts, 3,000 warehouse spaces spread around the country, and $1.5 billion in revenue, Houseboats, Inc. is “by far” the largest truck broker in the nation, Spaeth says.

It’s the number two trucking company after Schneider for the last two years, with revenues of over $1 billion a year.

Houseboats calls itself “a small company doing big business.” (Just don’t tell it.)

In the 1970s, and in all of the 80s until about the end of last decade, trucks were packed with cheap goods in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Then began the wide-ranging Great Recession, causing the U.S. economy to come crashing down around the container ships filled with manufactured products.

The recession devastated the trucking industry. Turnover skyrocketed — 2,000-plus trucking jobs were lost every month for about a year — and now the folks who moved these goods are employing the ones who did.

And this “why” is their source of inspiration for now embracing modern technology to do just that.

Building the new steel truck

These days, Houseboats is working on building a steel truck for its fleet. After months of negotiations with suppliers in China, plans are progressing to fulfill one of the largest truck orders in Houseboats’ history.

The San Francisco Bay shipping company Crowley Holdings, has ordered 5,000 trucks over five years.

Of these, over 1,000 will be built by Houseboats, in partnership with a Chinese steel manufacturer. The rest of the trucks are to be built in Houseboats’ Seattle offices.

They’re ready to go. Speth showed off one of these shiny steel trucks to CNN Business.

Fujishikawa Steel Rolls, the company supplying Houseboats with the steel truck, can offer ultra-thin steel on specially-fabricated steel roll-offs, which makes it lighter. It’s cheaper to build them (at about 20 cents per dollar worth of product) than using traditional steel for these roll-offs.

And Houseboats has hired the firm that previously worked on the tanks in the Exxon Valdez spill to ensure these first trucks built out of these aluminum plates don’t leak oil.

So now with that first shipment scheduled for early November, in time for a new holiday season, Houseboats will be able to move yet another cargo across the country with the aid of its fleet of shiny new shiny trucks.

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