Like a beachcomber during a minus tide, I go scavenging for bright bits of encouragement and reasons to hope during tough times. There are dozens of other pairs of footprints on the wet sand besides mine. Trucking industry people are out in numbers, bundled against the headwind, scrutinizing the tide line and scanning the shore for glimpses of the future.
All kinds of things turn up as you kick over facts and pull out scraps of news. At the Futurist magazine, for example, where trying to deduce probable, possible and preferred future scenarios is the daily routine, there is almost always something potentially useful to the trucking industry. An article about the growth in Internet sales, for instance, noted that “trucking may become the fastest-growing sector of the transportation industry” to meet the resulting increased need for delivery services. If the holiday sales data from 2001 is any measure, this may be a solid prediction representing new opportunities for fleets in the P&D and expedited freight sectors.
Hidden in yet another article on globalization there was a tidbit about food distribution, postulating that a growing demand for fresh foods year-round will make refrigeration and other safe-transport issues more of a concern in the future. At first, that looked like just the sort of bad news I'd throw back in dismay.
Or is it? After all, trucks move most of the nation's refrigerated food now. Is this an opportunity for the trucking industry, a growth market, a way to add value (and profit) to the distribution process? Maybe it is. Think about smart temperature sensors, tracking and safe-transport guarantees. Will there be a growth in the demand for multi-temperature trailers and trucks that can keep different foods cold, frozen or below zero? How about new technologies for sanitizing bulk food tankers?
Then there was that little blurb about fuel cells. “Fuel cells the size of soda cans may soon make long-lasting power practical for products ranging from toys to communications and transportation devices,” proclaimed another Futurist contributor.
Practical application of fuel cell technology for the transportation industry has been on the “Coming Soon” list for years. But if you think about it, engineers and scientists have been hard at work on this for a long time; there certainly could be no better moment than now for the technology to make its long-awaited debut.
Today, approximately 500,000 trucks idle six to eight hours a day for 325 days a year. Conservatively, that means fleets and owner-operators are idling away about 2,000 gallons of fuel per truck per year, or about one billion total gallons. Fuel prices can't get low enough to turn that into a small cost. Even if trucks were only to use fuel cells to power auxiliary devices, for example, the benefits would be immense to the industry and to society as a whole in terms of cost savings, reduced dependence on foreign fuel and reduced levels of pollution.
Picking through the news that has been washing up these past few months, it has been all too easy to find gloom clinging in damp dispiriting strands from everything. Maybe, like patient beachcombers, it is time to look more closely at what lies around us. Perhaps it's time to turn facts over, shake the data and hold news broadcasts to our ears to listen more intently for the sound of opportunities.
In Britain, according to the Futurist, ocean wave power itself is being used commercially to produce electricity. The waves are collected in a chamber and flow against turbine blades connected to a generator. The opportunities to build a bright future are out there. Let's grab a shovel and start digging.