Central Trucking, Inc.

Central Trucking, Inc.

Refrigerated truck fleet has warmed up to Eaton automation

“We did a side-by-side comparison using 12 trucks with a stick shift and 12 trucks with UltraShift PLUS. One half percent [fuel efficiency gain] is very significant when you take into account the number of miles we cover over the course of a year.”

Mark Roberts (left)
President, Central Trucking, Inc.


Central Trucking, Inc., (CTI) is a family owned and operated refrigerated carrier that services a variety of shippers from points in the east and Midwest to the west coast. In business since 1974, the company was founded by Keith K. Roberts.

Today his two sons, Mark and Keith Roberts II, run the place. Their fleet consists of roughly 225 newer model Kenworth T660 tractors. Some 450 people are employed at the company’s four facilities, including headquarters in Columbus, IN., and satellite terminals in Springfield, MO, Amarillo, TX, and Kingman, AZ.

A typical trip for the fleet consists of taking dry commodities out west and fruits and vegetables from California, Arizona and Nevada on the return trip back east.


Maintaining quality drivers is an important key to success at CTI. Recruiting and training new drivers is a large expense, so hanging on to the good ones can effectively reduce some of that cost.

“That’s especially true in today’s economic environment where rates are not quite where we would like to see them, like they were before the recession,” says Mark Roberts.

Those rates are especially trying for CTI’s dry loads heading west, which represents a route favored by competitors, including some of the country’s largest carriers with fleets in excess of 10,000 vehicles.

“Because we’re a refrigerated fleet and most of our competition are not, we have a much easier time of it heading back east with our produce,” says Roberts.

East, west, north or south, fuel efficiency is another important key to profitability, he adds.


Hanging on to his good drivers and generating the best possible fuel consumption has been a whole lot easier for Roberts since he began specifying automated transmissions on new truck orders.

CTI now has 148 trucks with Eaton UltraShift PLUS Linehaul Active Shifting (LAS) automated transmissions. Much more fuel efficient than a torque converter automatic transmission, the UltraShift PLUS LAS model is built upon Eaton’s popular Fuller 10-speed manual transmission. That has been the most popular transmission specification in commercial trucking in North America.

The automated version uses an electronic clutch actuator to provide faster shifting, smoother engagements, and an ideal combination of fuel efficiency and performance. At idle it also fully engages the clutch giving the driver ultimate control in parking lots, loading docks and other tight spaces.

Available in both overdrive and direct-drive, the transmissions may be paired with the highest torque rated engines available today with capacities ranging from 1,450 lb.ft. through 1,850 lb.ft. Automatic, Manual and Low modes give drivers full control of vehicle operation. Safety features include auto neutral and Hill Start Aid, which prevents roll-back and roll-forward while launching on grades.

“Back in 2009, we were one of the original fleets to try UltraShift PLUS transmissions. CTI has stayed with them ever since,” adds Roberts.


That commitment is now giving Roberts miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency gains as high as onehalf percent when compared to his trucks with manual transmissions.

“We did a side-by-side comparison using 12 trucks with a stick shift and 12 trucks with UltraShift PLUS,” he adds. “One half percent is very significant when you take into account the number of miles we cover over the course of a year.”

What’s even more significant is the way his drivers have taken a liking to the automated transmissions – but not before some initial reluctance from his veteran vehicle operators.

“Early on we had some of our more experienced operators asking dispatch to make sure they were given manual transmissions. They did not want the automated ones,” says Roberts. “We eventually had to kind of force them to drive the new transmissions as we continued to add them to our fleet.

“Now when the guys call in I hear they are saying things like ‘that better be an automated transmission. I don’t want a stick’.”

He attributes that to the convenience of a two-pedal transmission that eliminates the need for shifting and operating a clutch.

“When they get done with their run, they feel much more rested at the end of the day than they did with a stick,” he adds. “They do not feel as worn out.”

Those fuel-friendly and driverfriendly features have convinced Roberts that Eaton automation will continue to be is transmission of choice well into the future.

“We’re nearing the end of another new truck buying cycle and we will have our whole fleet outfitted with UltraShift PLUS when the order is complete,” notes Roberts. “At that point, I believe everybody will be much happier.”