Just the beginning

Sept. 9, 2014
Hold on to your hats—the pace of change is about to pick up

Five years ago, the entire U.S. economy hit a painful low point in what has come to be known in retrospect as “The Great Recession.”  In trucking, business failures rose to over 3,000 fleets and new-truck purchases hit record lows.  As you’ve heard every day in the mainstream news outlets, the recovery has been slow, and there have been lots of nervous glances over our shoulders looking for the first signs that we’re slipping back into that dark economic environment.

As we have slowly but steadily climbed back to what pundits tell us is recovery, trucking has undergone a major transformation with for-hire and private fleets re-examining every aspect of their operations from equipment to business plans.  Putting aside the general economic conditions, think about just a few of the other major issues you’ve had to address over these last five years: fundamental changes to safety regulations, a rapid evolution in truck technologies, the emergence of viable alternative fuel options, the imperative to exploit big data, the need to adapt operations to driver availability, and the renewed investor interest in mergers and acquisitions. And the list goes on.

While it’s often hard to recognize even major change when you’re deep in the day-to-day business of trying to deal with it, take a few minutes to recall those bleak days in 2009.  If you’re a trucking veteran, did you have any inkling that huge leaps in fuel economy and emissions reduction were just ahead?  Or that you’d be facing capacity constraints and driver shortages so quickly?  Or that you’d be seriously evaluating natural gas and other alternatives to diesel fuel?  And if you’re new to the industry, did you expect to find a pace of change in technology, in operations and in management that equals, if not exceeds, any other segment of the U.S. economy?

My question for you is what does a modern truck fleet look like today?  How is it different from a fleet of even five years ago?  And more importantly, what will it look like in five more years?
Despite the recent rapid pace of change, I strongly suspect that trucking is really just reaching an inflection point, a point where both industry-specific developments and broader social and economic forces are going to essentially change trucking and the way you think and act as a fleet manager or executive.  We’re just beginning to see the impact of new safety regulations and technologies, to take the first steps to attract more well-trained drivers, and to shape operations that better support those mandates.  Trucking is also just beginning to identify the real opportunities for efficiency, to understand the mutual benefits of cooperation with shippers and everyone else in the supply chain, and to unlock the promises of big data.  I believe all of these elements are going to rapidly transform trucking into quite a different industry.

But what do you think?  From the perspective of someone actually involved in running a fleet, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the last five years?  And what do you think your fleet will look like in the next five?  In two months, Fleet Owner will publish a State of  Trucking report looking at those exact questions.  I invite you to help shape our report by joining the discussion at the Fleet Owner group on LinkedIn, or by sending me your thoughts directly at [email protected].

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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