The North American transportation industry is in the early stages of an era of unprecedented change. Our industry has been inundated with reports of autonomous vehicles, the electrification of trucking and other potential alternative fuels, and the “uberization” of the freight market.It’s an exciting time to be connected to this industry. In just a few short years, I suspect our industry will be barely recognizable. Those who best adapt to the changing landscape will be the ones who prosper, while those who fail to do so will be left behind.Here are a few predictions I believe will take place in the coming years:
Drivers won’t be drivers
I don’t subscribe to the theory that driverless trucks will be delivering freight all on their own. I do, however, see the role of the driver changing drastically. In fact, the driver of the future won’t even be called a driver. He or she will be referred to as a logistics manager, freight engineer, or other such title.
Their role will be not to drive the truck, but to oversee systems. They’ll be required to manage transactions with shippers and receivers, to coordinate pickups and deliveries, to take over the controls when needed, and to supervise or manage loading and unloading. All this in an autonomously-driven – not driverless – truck.
I also suspect the changing role of the driver will finally solve the long-running shortage of professional drivers. The job will be more appealing to youth because of the technical nature of it coupled with the fact the more repetitive and mundane aspects of steering the truck down the road have been removed. Drivers, sorry, freight engineers, will be highly regarded as the skilled professionals they are, the importance of their role respected. They’ll be the airline pilots of the highway.
Trucking will be safer
Trucking, today, is a dangerous job, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Sure, today’s trucks are safer than they’ve ever been and highway safety in general is trending in a positive direction. However, there is increasing congestion on our highways and no shortage of bad drivers who put your life at risk every time you hit the road.
Increasing vehicular automation and the rise of vehicle-to-vehicle communications will make highway crashes an extremely rare occurrence. Something will have to go terribly wrong for a collision to occur. Vehicles will also be safer, so it will be possible to walk away from more severe crashes when they do occur. I suspect new safety technologies and the continued evolution of those we’re seeing implemented today will make trucking an extremely safe profession – maybe one of the safest.
Trucks will be more reliable
As the complexity of trucks has increased in recent years, their reliability has decreased. I expect that trend to reverse and envision a future in which unscheduled downtime is practically unheard of. Predictive diagnostics will allow OEMs to monitor vehicle health in real-time, as they do today, but to take it a step further and predict when parts will wear out. Precision maintenance schedules will be customized for each vehicle and will nearly eliminate breakdowns.
The trucking industry will look to the airline industry for inspiration, and implement systems, protocols and layers of redundancy to ensure trucks just don’t break down while they’re out on the highway. There will be new manufacturers
Finally, I believe we will see the arrival of new truck manufacturers, something we haven’t seen in North America in a long time, aside from Caterpillar’s short-lived attempt to establish itself as a truck builder. We’ve already heard of Nikola Motor Company, which is working on a hydrogen-fueled Class 8 linehaul truck. Tesla is working on an electric semi and who knows what other Silicon Valley startups are
eyeing the trucking industry as ripe for disruption.
These threats will force the incumbent OEMs to continue pushing the envelope and exploring new methods of moving freight down the highway. Trucking providers will have new options when it comes to the power they put on the road.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies