Commentary: Get Ready for Trucking’s Future

<p><strong>Jack Roberts</strong></p>

A century ago, the fledgling U.S. trucking industry helped transform an agrarian nation into an industrial one. And as the industry gained strength, it played a major role in transforming that newly industrialized country into the world’s first superpower. Today, it seems, trucking is preparing to transform the globe — with technology leading the way.

Historically, our industry has never been much of a technology leader. For one thing, trucking took most of its technology cues from the passenger car side of the automotive industry. For another thing, technology costs money. And trucking has always been (and always will be) about efficiently moving freight at the lowest possible cost. Historically, most fleets weren’t willing to pay for new tech unless there was a proven cost benefit. And let’s face it — for most of the past century, it was possible to largely ignore new technology and still remain competitive. Simply run older equipment and let somebody else work all the bugs out of the new stuff, the thinking went.

Those days, however, are gone.

For one thing, government regulations are forcing fleets to adopt new technology, whether it’s electronic logging devices or emissions reduction equipment.

And then there are the original equipment manufacturers. Once, vehicle makers designed trucks for specific counties and regions, with North America arguably the most important market on the planet. Today, OEMs are global companies with vehicle platforms and powertrains that must perform well anywhere on the planet and meet a host of emissions and safety regulations. It’s never been cheap to design a truck and put it into production, and today it’s more expensive than ever. So, increasingly, American trucks are being built with advanced technologies sourced from all over. So if truck fleets in China or Europe want platooning and autonomous and automated technologies, it makes it much more likely we’ll see them here.

And finally, there is the simple fact that the new, interconnected global super-economy means that fortunes are waiting to be made. Which means that an industry that has largely been served by “legacy” OEMs and suppliers is finding itself surrounded by new players with new ideas about how to move freight efficiently. Companies such as Amazon, Otto, Tesla, Uber, and Intel understand that the global economy will thrive on logistics. And they further understand that trucking is the spearpoint of that worldwide logistical effort. They know trucking offers the best opportunity for a radical technological revolution and money to be made as a result.

The pace of new technology and new entrants can make your head swim, but like it or not, the future is coming. Some companies will figure out how to use all this emerging technology to get ahead in business. To help your fleet be one of them, Heavy Duty Trucking has launched this monthly department to help our readers figure out which technologies are viable, profitable and imminent. From electronic logs to big data, from platooning to autonomous trucks, and everything in between, Future Fleet will be there to cut through the hype and tell you how new technology works, where it’s going, and how it can make you money, make you safer, save you time, or increase your productivity.

 

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