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Uncertainty in 2024

Gaskins: Uncertainty is the dominant concern for 2024

Jan. 23, 2024
To start off 2024, it's important to be aware of the uncertainties the trucking industry faces this year.

Disruption is a fact of life in today’s world, personally and professionally. The major disruptor over the past four years was COVID-19, which impacted so many other aspects of business, including supply chain shortages and a shift to a remote workforce. Disruption leads to uncertainty, and this year is no different. Here are three of the significant uncertainties that we need to plan for:

Economic uncertainty

Even though 2023 ended with the financial markets having an unexpectedly strong finish, there are still concerns about 2024, especially within our industry. There might not have been a nationwide recession, but we are currently experiencing a freight recession. Lower freight tonnage and an oversupply of capacity have led to record-low spot rates. OEMs are on the front line, seeing reduced orders and shorter backlogs.

The lack of freight puts pressure on ocean, air, and ground transportation companies that purchased additional ships, planes, and tractors for post-pandemic freight movement. Now, many are struggling just to keep afloat. Yellow Freight is just one example of a company misjudging the market. Consolidation and the elimination of capacity will pick up pace in 2024.

With all this in mind, along with the concern that inflationary easing could be transitory, businesses must decide whether to plan for growth or go into survival mode.

See also: Batch of Yellow terminal leases fetches $83M

Supply chain uncertainty

Supply chains are still stressed, and we can point to any number of reasons, but I feel the number one reason is that manufacturing labor is difficult to find. It is so difficult that we now see six-figure salaries for maintenance technicians.

You name it: truck bodies, RV manufacturers, truck and tractor OEMs, and construction, they are all pulling from the same labor pool. Many high school graduates elect to attend college instead of trade schools, further limiting the skilled labor pool.

To complicate the equation further, worldwide shipping has seen new threats that are a product of two ongoing wars and a massive reduction in capacity at the Panama Canal. Both issues are forcing shipping companies to reroute their ships, adding days and weeks to product deliveries.

Asset type uncertainty

Last year, it seemed like every week brought new articles on the bright future for electric vehicles, but the BEV boon looks like a short-term BEV bust. There are several reasons for this. In a recent report, ATRI calculated that the power necessary to fuel the needs of a national electrified transport fleet would cost billions and is almost a non-starter for the conversion. And that’s even for the state of California, which has been the champion for BEVs and zero emissions.

Then there’s the cost. This same report noted that Californians already pay $.10 more per kWh than the national average while new BEV trucks are “stickering for more than $425,000–more than double the cost of a comparable diesel truck.” Add to that the cost of reduced cargo-carrying capacity due to the weight and size of batteries. According to ATRI, more trucks will be needed, an additional 343 trucks for every 1,000 vehicles currently on the road.

Another reality has arisen regarding a downside for BEVs: the Arctic freeze impacting so much of the country. Though most news concerns cars, lithium-ion batteries power cars and trucks alike. In sub-freezing temperatures, it can take, at minimum, two times as long to charge a vehicle, and there’s a reduction in driving range. For fleets, this is, again, very costly in terms of both revenue and time.

Some states that were ready to follow California’s emissions standards are now starting to reevaluate where they stand regarding expectations vs. reality. This is good news for fleets since, with all the issues facing BEVs, fleet managers were being put in difficult positions when it comes to planning. Do they purchase a limited number of electric vehicles, work with a third-party provider to handle transportation in states with emissions mandates, or walk away from doing business in those same states?

Conclusion on uncertainty

The key to success in uncertain times is to make minor adjustments rather than sweeping changes. I believe there is a future for BEVs; we just need to do much more work on an aging infrastructure. Until then, we need to focus on improving existing technologies and become more efficient in conducting business. Being more efficient means exploring all the alternatives to existing supply chains, educating our youth on the benefits of trade skills, and focusing on what we can control.

Patrick Gaskins, SVP of Corcentric Fleet Solutions, oversees both sales and operations for the company's fleet offerings. Gaskins joined the company in 2010, bringing more than 30 years of experience as a financial services professional in the transportation industry. He leads a team that works with a supply base of more than 160 manufacturers to help the country's largest fleets manage all aspects of their fleet operations and fleet-related spending.

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