Darrell Sorenson sketches a pyramid in the air to help describe the fortunes of Sorenson Transport, the Chehalis, Wash.-based refrigerated goods and LTL hauler over which he presides.
“We were here, then we were here,” he says, with his finger at the peak. “And then we were back here,” he adds, his finger tracking downward to a point roughly equal to the level at which it started. The economy, he says, took a toll. And then came pricing wars, which he eventually decided were not in his company’s interest to fight.
But the last few months have signaled a solid leveling spot for the company, even an uptick in revenues. And that uptick coincides with the arrival of five new Peterbilt Model 579s. Driver acceptance of the new trucks is higher than Sorenson has ever seen, and their fuel efficiency performance has the company maximizing its profits.
“I’m naturally optimistic,” says Sorenson. “And I like the way things are looking.”
Sorenson started his foray into trucking in 1970 hauling fresh seafood from the Pacific Northwest down the I-5 lane, to southern California. Seafood, in fact, remains the bulk of the company’s southbound freight, and it complements those hauls with a variety of LTL, refrigerated dairy products and other cargo distributed over seven Western states.
Sorenson made his first Peterbilt [link to: www.peterbilt.com] purchase — a Model 352 — in 1974, and he’s been essentially all-Peterbilt ever since.
“Peterbilt is the best truck available,” Sorenson told First Class Magazine in 1997. “They’re dependable and trouble-free. They’re lightweight, the resale value is high, and driver acceptance is very good.”
Those attributes remain reasons why Sorenson still runs an all-Peterbilt fleet which now features 52 power units, a few more than it ran in 1997. Fleet growth peaked around 2008, before the economy turn and the industry consolidation that swallowed up so many small and mid-sized trucking companies.
But Sorenson came through it. And the new Model 579s in the fleet signal that Sorenson has his eyes trained on the future.
“I probably should think about retiring but I’m going to stay at it a while,” he says. “I like trucking. I’ve never had a job that didn’t have a steering wheel.”
Sorenson doesn’t turn that steering wheel himself these days, but he did take a Model 579 for a spin in the yard recently and came away impressed.
“It’s like driving a brand new car,” he says. “The drivers rave about the Model 579, and I can see why. They tell me the ride is excellent, and so is the maneuverability. Leather seats, no more toggle switches — they’re nice.
“I’ve never seen driver acceptance better than it is for the Model 579. They just rave about them. They like the one-piece windshield and the visibility. They like the automatic transmission we spec, and I don’t blame them. With the amount of traffic in L.A. and Seattle, this is a lot easier on the left leg.
“You’ve got to offer these guys a premium truck,” he adds. “That always matters, particularly when you’re facing the driver shortage we’re seeing.”
Sorenson is also seeing unprecedented fuel economy with his new Model 579s, paired with PACCAR MX-13 engines. The trucks get minimally 8.0 mpg, with some units as high as 8.3.
“We’re LTL so we’re usually not up to weight and we stop and go a lot, but I think it’s pretty clear that Peterbilt has the aerodynamics figured out,” he says. “Our spec, including single tires, is helping out with fuel economy too.
“And we love the MX-13. They pull better than what we had run previously, and I wasn’t sure they would with a smaller block, especially through the mountains where we run. I think PACCAR might really have something with the MX. That’s a million-mile engine.”
Top resale dollar
Sorenson expects to see his MX-powered Model 579s command top dollar in the resale market, just as he has with his other Peterbilt trades over the years. However, he plans to shorten his trade cycle from 5 years, 625,000 miles to maximize his return.
In the meantime, Sorenson will otherwise stick to the formula that has carried him through good times and bad.
“We’ve never been the cheapest,” he says. “But we’re always trying to be the best. And that will serve us when things get better. There’s going to be more freight moving. We haul food, and when the population grows, there’s going to be more food moving.
“So we’re just going to keep at it. After all, I’m naturally an optimist.”