Uber Freight Seeks to Corral Truckers With Discount Program

November 30, -0001 Michelle Rafter

Uber freight trucks

Uber Freight has an offer that it hopes truck drivers can’t refuse — thousands of dollars in discounts on Navistar’s International brand big rigs if truckers use its freight-matching service.

Uber also will provide price breaks on maintenance, tires, gas and cellphone services.

The commercial division of the company launched the Uber Freight Plus driver loyalty program Wednesday to entice more small carriers and independent truckers to use the 10-month-old service, a smartphone app that drivers can use to find available loads nearby.

This is Uber Freight’s latest step to put itself in front of other cloud-based load-matching services that have materialized as freight demand climbs and more segments of the trucking transportation industry go digital.

The discount program piggybacks on existing relationships between third-party vendors and Uber Freight’s parent company, Uber Technologies. The ride-hailing business has long offered price breaks on gas and other services to Uber drivers.

The program includes a ComData fuel card for discounts of 20 cents a gallon at major truck stops and 15 cents a gallon at smaller independent truck stops in California, Illinois and Texas. There also are discounts on Goodyear tires and Sprint cellphone service and gear.

Fuel accounts for about a third of a driver’s annual expenses, or up to $70,000 a year. Offering a fuel card “is a natural extension of what we’ve done so far with our mission to make it more affordable and efficient” for truckers, said Eric Berdinis, Uber Freight product lead.

Berdinis declined to say how many drivers downloaded the app since it debuted last May, or how fast the company’s business is growing.

Navistar is offering discounts up to $16,000 on new Class 8 trucks. It also will take up to $4,000 off the price of a used truck. The specific discounts are on models and other factors.

The company also is providing up to a 50 percent break on parts and maintenance.

The truck manufacturer has offered discounts through industry loyalty programs before, but this is the first package to cover parts and maintenance along with new and used vehicles, said Mark Johnson, Navistar’s vice president of marketing.

“A customer’s No. 1 need is a truck that stays on the road and makes money for them,” Johnson said. “When we talked to Uber Freight they were on a similar pathway.”

To be eligible for Navistar vehicle discounts, drivers must use the Uber Freight app at least 10 times. Drivers only need to use the app once a month to receive other discounts.

Uber Freight isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel by rolling out a loyalty program. Uber Freight Plus competes with existing fuel card discounts and loyalty programs offered by truck stop networks, trucking associations and other industry groups.

The Owner Operator Independent Driver Association offers discounts on trucks, tires, fuel, electronics and other services. The trade group has 160,000 members who are primarily self-employed drivers or small fleets.

The Women In Trucking Association started offering its members a TransConnect Services fuel discount card in August 2017 that works at more than 1,800 U.S. truck stops, including Pilot Flying J, AmBest, Speedway and TA Petro.

Some truckers are trying out the Uber program after having negative experiences with rivals.

Ferdinand “Ferdi” Heres, an owner-operator in Knoxville, Tenn., said he was once overcharged for the actual amount of gas he purchased. Another time, the discount wasn’t applied properly.

It was “a very questionable level of professionalism,” Heres said.

He got his ComData fuel discount card in the mail last week. “When I heard about the Uber fuel card I was looking forward to signing up,” he said.

Uber Freight pegged the program’s announcement to the opening of the annual Mid America Trucking Show, which begins this week in Louisville, Ky.

The rollout comes a day after Uber suspended tests of self-driving trucks following a pedestrian fatality involving one of its autonomous cars in Arizona on Sunday. Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group manages Uber Freight and the company’s autonomous vehicle development programs.

Uber Advanced Technologies Group announced earlier in March that it had been testing autonomous trucks in Arizona since late 2017 as part of an experiment to blend self-driving and conventional driver-operated trucks. The company was using human drivers to deliver freight to and from transfer hubs on Arizona’s eastern and western borders. The loaded trailers were then hooked to self-driving tractors to be hauled across the state.

Outside of Arizona, Uber has tested self-driving trucks near its San Francisco headquarters and at an autonomous vehicles test center near Pittsburgh.

“This vision of the future where we have self-driving trucks doing the highway portion and Uber Freight drivers doing regional and local hauls is how we envision trucking evolving,” Berdinis said. “The pilot is an example of what the future could look like, but we’re many years away.”

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