The dawn of a new decade is upon us as we enter the year 2020. Will this usher in another 10 years fit to be called the ‘roaring twenties’? Will we fall hard into recession? Maybe things will just continue on somewhere in the middle? Honestly, none of us can know for sure, but I sure like the number 2020 because I’ve always associated it with clear vision (yes I know when dealing with vision it is written 20/20 but it sounds the same!) That said there are some clear signs that the twenties will be good for drivers and owner/ops.
Tightening capacity, it’s a phrase you here from time to time in regards to specific freight lanes, and the signs point to it becoming a trend industry-wide. While we all have lamented those guys that haul legitimate “cheap freight,” those very same companies large and small are going bankrupt at an alarming rate. Some will point to these trucking company failures as proof positive you can’t make it in trucking. I’d like to say it’s more proof you can, but you have to run at a profit, you can’t continually take freight at a breakeven price just to keep your wheels going. These companies exiting means fewer trucks to compete for that same freight.
Another factor tightening the market is the driver shortage, and that will get worse before it gets better. Time and time again, we watch the baby boomers exit the industry to retire to be replaced by… well, no one. Until the government helps pay for training and lowers the financial barrier to the younger generation, we will have to be content with a negative growth rate for the driving force. We should applaud the increased standards in driver training because it ultimately raises the value of our profession.
The ELD (electronic logging device) is not a popular subject to bring up amongst drivers, and I have to admit I wasn’t a fan initially either. No one wants a piece of electronic gadgetry telling them when they can and can’t work. I also knew that the safety impact of the devices would be negligible because it doesn’t prevent fatigue or bad habits. The thing that the ELD does do is put everyone on the same lower productivity playing field, which in turn cuts capacity.
While we could talk for hours or write volumes on all of these issues, the point is they are going to continue into the new decade, and the effect will be raising rates. Its simple supply and demand and the supply of freight is not going to shrink, and the need for drivers won’t either. That makes it pretty clear to me that rates will stay strong in 2020.
Another positive I see in the industry is the advance of technology in trucks. No, not the tech of driverless trucks that are being invented to steal our livelihood. The driverless car still has a long way to go to meet safety and public approval, the autonomous semi is farther behind that. The tech I’m talking about is what’s already here, the tech that is in the trucks we buy and drive today. Technology has fuel economy at all-time highs with some trucks into the double digits as a 90-day average. Advanced air ride suspensions that will soon include active ride sensing along with electronic stability and steering assist will have drivers living in a level of comfort previously reserved for expensive coaches. All of the manufacturers now offer over the air diagnosis and tracking for help with breakdowns and maintenance. I drive both new trucks and trucks from the ’90s and early 2k’s. While I still love the growl of a single turbo cat and working a twin-stick trans, if I have to spend long days on the road, it’s hard to argue with new. And the numbers are proving that the latest versions of all of the engines, from all manufacturers, have less downtime.
If I had to point to one other movement that will positively impact the next decade of trucking, it’s the move to the hub and spoke distribution. More and more large companies are having their distribution centers placed close to intermodal terminals, building massive centralized warehouses for a region to allow for same-day delivery (think Amazon, etc.). On the surface, this would appear to be trouble for trucking as it takes a volume of freight off trucks and puts it on container trains. While that will undoubtedly happen, these high volume truckload commodities were never really high paying loads anyway. The real bonus of this system is that it creates opportunities regionally. If the container comes into the area, it needs to be unloaded then reloaded somewhere close by and brought back to the railhead. Then there are the one-off smaller loads that need to come from other areas, rail can’t compete with trucking on speed or low volumes. The more freight shifts to regional, the more home time is available to drivers. If seeing family and being in your own bed is important to you, the next decade will hold a ton of opportunity for you!
Time for a hefty disclaimer! I am in no way shape or form a predictor of the future, nor am I responsible if the next decade turns out to be nothing like what I describe in the above editorial. All of my theories are based entirely on my own observations of the industry and may be tainted with years of diesel fumes. These same fumes and countless years of truck stop coffee, cold meals and greasy hands have given me an extraordinary power to look at trucking through rose coloured glasses. This positive outlook for the future is contagious. Should you experience feelings of hope, optimism and general happiness towards trucking, you should immediately share them with those around you!
I do genuinely believe trucking has a great future, and we are the ones to make it happen! So Happy New Year! Lets roar into the twenties, happy and prosperous!