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Roeth: Improving efficiency can mitigate some of trucking’s top concerns

Nov. 1, 2023
Trucking's concerns about the economy, fuel prices, driver shortage, driver retention, and zero-emission vehicles are all connected. Improving operating efficiency can help fleets alleviate many of trucking's modern pain points.

The economy, fuel prices, driver shortage, driver retention, zero-emission vehicles. These are five of the Top 10 Trucking Industry Issues identified by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). ATRI surveyed 4,000 trucking industry stakeholders, asking them to select their top three critical issues from a list of 26.

I've singled out these five because I see a connection between them. Taken as a whole, they speak to the operating efficiency of a fleet. While trucking is a vital part of the economy, fleets have little control over inflation and interest rates. When economic factors negatively impact the cost of trucking, all fleets can do is find ways to operate more to keep ahead of cost increases caused by economic factors.

The same is true with fuel prices. At NACFE, we have long advocated that fleets focus on improving fuel economy regardless of the cost of a gallon of diesel because fuel is always one of the top operating costs fleets incur. One way to reduce the impact of high diesel prices is to invest in technologies that improve fuel efficiency. When you get more miles from a gallon of fuel, you are burning less fuel, which is a form of decarbonizationa bonus in these days when there is a strong call for the trucking industry to operate more sustainably.

See also: How to mitigate drivers' top concerns

It is not surprising that zero-emission vehicles are on the list of top fleet concerns. Whenever a new technology comes into an industry, people are concerned about whether it will work and how it will impact their operations. NACFE's Run on Less Electric–DEPOT should help alleviate some of these concerns. The 10 fleet depots in the Run demonstrated that battery electric vehicles work well in various duty cycles and are capable of performing as well as their diesel counterparts. We encourage fleets to begin investing in battery-electric trucks where they make sense, in applications requiring vans and step vans, medium-duty box trucks, terminal tractors, and short regional haul.

Something that we first learned during Run on Less Electric was reinforced during Run on Less Electric–DEPOT. And that is that drivers love battery-electric trucks. Having battery-electric trucks in your fleet can help you address the driver shortage and retain the drivers you already have—a perennial problem in the industry.

Improving operating efficiency will help with at least five of the trucking industry's Top 10 concerns. Maybe it will help with some of the others as well, which include truck parking, driver compensation, lawsuit abuse reform, driver distraction, and detention/delay at customer facilities. Even if operating more efficiently won't address all of the industry's concerns, it will certainly help with many of them and add to fleets' bottom line.

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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