March 21, 2017 12:25 PM, EDT

New U.S. Xpress CEO Cites Tech as Critical to Survival in Next Decade

U.S. Xpress CEO Eric Fuller

The trucking industry is rapidly changing with new technology offering an opportunity to improve bottom-line results, changes that new U.S. Xpress Enterprises CEO Eric Fuller told Transport Topics will make or break companies over the next decade or so.

In his first in-depth interview since he inherited the job from his father, Max, in mid-March, Eric Fuller identified new technology as a vital part of his plan to grow the company and remain one of the top privately held truckload fleets in the United States. He told TT that the industry is on the cusp of  “a significant shift.”

“Over the next five to 10 years, the trucking industry will become very tech-heavy, and we’ll start to be really, in a sense, a technology company. It’s the direction that all the large carriers will need to take in order to survive. We’re going to have to pivot and go in that direction,” Eric Fuller said, “whether it’s driver assistance in the tractor, electric trucks or technology in the network to improve our yield. There is a lot of things in technology that we’re going to have to adopt to thrive in the future.”

Eric Fuller began his career at U.S. Xpress nearly 20 years ago. In his previous role, he was responsible for over-the-road and dedicated services, customer service and planning. Lisa Quinn Pate, who took over as company president, joined the Chattanooga, Tennessee, carrier in 2002 and most recently served as general counsel and chief administrative officer.

Pate told TT that the industry is evolving from what she described as an old “Wild West” mentality of “running and gunning.” She also said that technology won’t soon replace drivers, but it will make the work less stressful and thereby increase retention rates.

“The more that we, as an industry, move towards iPads, tablets or mobile units, and the more we can help the driver communicate with home on a more regular basis through in-truck WiFi, the more attractive the job is,” Pate said.

Pate and the younger Fuller have received a vote of confidence from founder Max Fuller about navigating the company into the next generation.

“Our industry will continue to get more competitive, and the companies with the best leaders, people, processes and equipment will come out on top. I’m confident that Eric and Lisa are the right people to take U.S. Xpress to the next level,” Max Fuller said.

Now executive chairman, Max Fuller will focus on long-term strategy to identify and integrate new technologies. One of them could be the Nikola One, a hydrogen-electric Class 8 produced by Nikola Motor Co. At an unveiling in December 2016, Max Fuller said the truck “could be the game changer we’re all looking for.” U.S. Xpress hasn’t placed orders but promised to do so if the technology pans out,, both Fullers have said.

“Look at the people entering out industry. They’re coming directly from a technology standpoint. You’ve got Uber, Tesla and maybe even Google or Apple," Eric Fuller said. "We’ll no longer just have to compete against our traditional competitors but also against new competitors as well.

“I’d say over the next 10-plus years, we could see more fallout with technology than we will see with [electronic logging devices] over the next year. I think the large guys can keep up, but a smaller guy will have a hard time making those investments. Technology will drive some people out of business over the long term.”

U.S. Xpress ranks No. 19 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.