Truck News


What’s the future of trucking?

Has the recession permanently changed the way we do business? It was one of many questions posed to a large panel of trucking executives at the latest Ontario Trucking Association convention but I thought it perhaps the most important one.
There was a great deal of soul searching following the question as executives recounted the most significant lessons they’ve learned during this most gut wrenching of industry downturns. Several executives said they realized just how little customers understand about what goes on behind the scenes to pull off a delivery; a reality that’s not helped by many motor carriers who not only neglect to educating their customers but who are too often willing to devalue the service they provide just to land a contract.
Many pointed to excess capacity as the root of the industry’s current troubles and called for a workable plan to flex the fleet during downturns but to not do so on the backs of owner/operators.
On the positive side, some executives pointed out that having their back against the wall the past two years has forced motor carriers to work harder to gain efficiencies and find cost reductions that don’t compromise safety. As one executive eloquently put it: It has been a very cleansing opportunity to be able to hit a reset button.
Naturally, the general feeling was that they’ve learned important lessons they won’t soon forget. I hope they’re right but my personal impression over the past 20 years covering the transportation industry is that lessons learned during hard times start to fade as economic fortunes improve, thus sowing the seeds for future industry setbacks. Yet it’s encouraging that the industry is having this discussion and influential executives are willing to openly debate the strategies that proved to have such disastrous effects during the downturn. The OTA deserves credit for creating the forum to make such an exchange possible.
This year will continue to be volatile time for trucking companies and there are still lessons to be learned. So I think it important to continue the discussion on the industry’s future. Those of you interested in doing so may want to follow me to Winnipeg this February 17-19 to the Future of Trucking Symposium. I’ll be kicking off the event with a presentation entitled, The North American Trucking Industry: Where we are and where we are going. The symposium itself is designed to analyze how trucking will evolve in response to changing freight movement patterns, environmental concerns, fuel price volatility, and labour availability over the next 20 years. Several prominent industry figures will be speaking at the event, including Clayton Gording, president of YRC Reimer Express Lines, Don Streuber, president and CEO of Bison Transport, and Claude Robert, president and CEO of Robert Transport.
The symposium will also feature a panel on future heavy-duty truck and engine technologies, i.e. selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). Speakers will represent some combination of the following organizations: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Daimler Trucks (Detroit Diesel Engines, Freightliner and Western Star); Volvo/Mack Trucks; Navistar/International Trucks; Terra Environmental Industries or Yara Industries and Pilot/Flying J Travel Centers.
For more information, contact Kathy Chmelnytzki at 204.474.9097 or at
I hope to see you there.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
All posts by

Print this page

6 Comments » for What’s the future of trucking?
  1. Dear Lou:
    An excellent editorial on the future of trucking. Your meeting with the many soul searching attendees of the Ontario Trucking Association Convention brings to light some disturbing information in respect to the outlook going forward.
    The real issue is that there are many independent brokers and ethnic family firms that have completely dropped their pants on rate cards and working at break even or below. They provide poor service, limited liability insurance and security. How do you deal with these pirates? They have ruined it for the industry.
    Who is going to bring these groups in line?
    Mark Borkowski, pres.
    Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp.
    I King Street West, Suite 714
    Toronto, Ontario
    M5H 1A1
    (416) 368-8466 ext. 232

  2. Kenneth Cooper says:

    Dear Lou.
    Good article, you bring about some very noteworthy realizations, as to the current economic situation and position looking into the future of the rubber wheeled transport industry.
    I feel the trucking industry in general suffers from what I describe as ‘profit suckling’. Your example of how the managers had to pull out the stops to introduce new ways of handling an industry thats predominantly cash poor is excellent, it’s bang on. What I dislike to admit though is that on one hand, trucking companies are indeed very much doing their part by reducing (NOT cutting) costs and making their freight systems run more cost efficient by introducing “taboo” technology (sail fins, fairings); The companies that provide all of the CONSUMABLE equipment and goods to our businesses unfortunately do not share the same vision(with exceptions, few but they are noted). These companies deliberately modify their products with their suited backs to their hungry clients, to have a ‘estimated’ life span or ‘USE’ period engineered into them. It’s no mystery that this entire nation continues to be allowed to be crushed under wall-streets quality leather-bound size 12. I warn that if the trucking industry continues to permit the use of political agenda, and corporate profit motivated strategy to mitigate the obvious engineering problems directly associated with the costs, then there is no end it sight that I can see. These ‘recession’ type symptoms will continue for the sole purpose of profit gain.
    The problem unfortunately continues to be addressed from a position of financial gain, instead of directly addressing the problem from an engineering standpoint. True, one must not forgo financial responsibilities entirely, but the formalities associated with financial gain should not be permitted to IMPEDE the advancement and implementation of new technology, and they have. An example is the way a stop light is introduced to an intersection only AFTER an incident of bodily harm has occurred, this is a good example of exactly the reactive behavior that is occurring. Everyone is running around trying to put out the fire, no one thinks to simply turn off the gas. A government in the interests of fostering change would encourage companies to produce very very high efficiency products, instead of deterring them. Fostering engineering excellence in the technology arena to the likes the WORLD has never seen. We can ALL benefit from smarter choices not just cleaner air.
    The Govt. as we already know, mandates for a percentage of efficiency over and above current values by a given date set in the future from piston engine manufacturers (Daimler Chrysler, Cummins, Maxxforce Navistar). These manufacturers are encouraged to continue to develop PISTON technology by path of the least resistance to PROFITABILITY. Why is it that they will not look aggressively into alternatives to this archaic glorified air pump? We must to keep moving foreword. I will not accept an engine companies open admission to the lack alternatives when there is clearly no effort encouraged do any research outside the box. The government (a silent partner) is clearly not interested from a sustainable economic future standpoint, only a profitable one.
    I would like to include that the manufacturing/supply sector is part-responsible for this deliberate ignorance as well, the government continues to freely allow deficient products into our parts bins (chinese grey metal/ white box cheap remanufactured parts), as its clearly profitable to them to do so. The two sub-systems backing the trucking industry (manufacturers, and fuel supply companies) prefer to keep the trucking industry bleeding as slowly as possible. That maximizes profits and keeps the manufacturers products in high demand, thus keeping them very much IN BUSINESS. It’s bad news for the industry as a whole(not just truck drivers, truck owners, fleet managers, trucking companies) as there will likely NEVER be an end to this proliferation unless the entire SYSTEM gets looked at for its deficiencies and addressed from a 2010 point of view, instead of that of 1973.
    Approach this 1973 problem with a 2010 solution. It requires nothing more then PEOPLE to be permitted and ENCOURAGED to approach problems with a un-biased fresh ideas. Free to look at past discoveries again, with hope of gleaning new intel. Allowed aswel to implement technology from the european transport sector. It also requires PEOPLE in positions of power to turn around and commit to approaching the problem of costs, in a responsible and ethical “future minded” steadfast position that leaves everyones pocket book and spreadsheet less a part of the big picture. We (as an industry of OTR fright handling companies) have been dealing with the costs associated with truck driving for well over 40 yrs, should we not be AHEAD of it by now? If not, why? We have learned how to do most everything else, but for some un-explained reason, there seems no way to get out ahead of this. Most of you will state “engineering standards are not good enough”, I suggest you take a hard look at what engineers have done TODAY, and what’s available on the shelf at the NAPA. The gap isn’t just big, its ABSURDLY HUGE, almost comedic.
    As some agree aerodynamic trucks don’t look like ‘Trucks’, but they work like they should. We know they reduce actual fuel usage percentages and keep them to a bare minimum, the introduction of the auto stick, or air shift to fully hydraulic(ISHIFT VOLVO) transmission has saved companies who employ them, millions of dollars in maintenance and down-time. Many owners will tell you how great their 379 Pete looks in the morning light, but that view DOESN’T help them swallow their fuel bill. Todays trucks maximize available non renewable resources. Equipment, Fuel and most importantly un-skilled (green) operators. The aerodynamic capabilities of these vehicles could be increased tenfold, IF a fuel company like Petro-Canada or Shell (for example) could profit in the future to a greater degree then that of their current fleet fuel sales. Better trucks, less fuel consumption, Petro-Canada, Shell loose revenue (nature of profit, not personal), Petro-Canada/Shell’s net worth is carried largely by its INVESTORS. Its suddenly bad for the investor (personal lifestyle MAY change as a result of lower stock worth).
    The industry is deliberately choked all fronts by these very same fundamentals. Profit.
    My question is, what kind of future do the fathers of this industry leave to its successors, if nothing short of the same DISMAL STRUGGLE, provided that nothing changes? I see one future with break-thru designs and fleets of trucks that have a GREENER footprint then the Railroad. Unfortunately I can easily see one with exactly the same problems and rigidity that is faced with today as far as regulations, and designed obsolescence, only in the future everything will be 10 times more expensive, 10 times more bureaucratic and our wages will be exactly the same as they are now.
    In closing, I would suggest to everyone out there involved in the industry who is reading this right now, and any especially attending the Winnipeg Seminars to ask the right people the TOUGH questions. Ask WHY tires wear out? Ask WHY there isn’t a full blown HYDROGEN FUEL CELL in a Class 1?? Ask why there is a lack composite materials used in heavy truck construction. Carbon FIBER CABS, for example are 1/4 the weight and never rust. Why is it that HYBRID technology is being looked at as a “viable solution” when it creates more environmental issues then the current situation does. Let the engineers sort out the implications as of weight and complicated details concerning these things, it’s what they do best.
    Demand that the GOVT be held responsible for deliberately choking the advancement of technology. After all WE are showing them that we can handle the responsibility of a sustainable and safe future, because WE ARE STILL HERE as employees and as managers of Canada’s trucking network, we have some of the highest standards in the world, aren’t we worth it?
    Aren’t We?
    Thank you for your time.
    Kenneth Cooper
    Ex Transport Truck Driver
    Bison Transport
    ph# 403 476 5142

  3. Dear Lou:
    What is the future of the transportation industry. In this niche, it is a consolidation.
    Those that wake up and hook up with a strong financial partner will do quite well. Those that want to tough it out may have two or three more years of bad road ahead.
    Press Release:
    FleetPride Makes 14th Add-On Acquisition
    Posted on: February 23rd, 2010
    FleetPride, Inc., an aftermarket distributor of heavy-duty truck and trailer parts backed by Investcorp., acquired the assets of Mandal Truck and Trailer, Inc. in Lathrop, California. The deal is FleetPride’s 14th acquisition since Investcorp purchased the company from Aurora Capital Group and Brentwood Associates in 2006 for $506 million. Bank of America also participated in the deal, which included $160 million term loan B, a $40 million first lien revolver, and $150 million senior bridge loan.
    FleetPride, Inc., the nation’s largest independent aftermarket distributor of heavy-duty truck and trailer parts, announced today that it is furthering the company’s long-term growth strategy by acquiring the assets of Mandal Truck and Trailer, Inc. in Lathrop, California. This acquisition includes a lease of the 11,520 square foot facility dedicated to truck and trailer parts and service and brings the total number of FleetPride locations in California to 20. Mandal Truck and Trailer’s previous owner, Ed Castles, will stay on in the role of Branch Manager and employment offers were extended to all employees.
    “Mandal Truck and Trailer is located along the I-5 corridor and serves the agriculture industry in the San Joaquin valley as well as high-tech companies, quarries, lumber mills and timber product producers in the foothills and mountains to the east. Lathrop, California is a strategic geographic compliment to our existing branch locations in the region. It strengthens our mid-California footprint by shortening the distance between our existing branch locations in the state and will be well-served from the Visalia distribution center,” said Steve Turnlund, Regional Manager.
    “Acquiring Lathrop will allow for significant growth and product line expansion going forward. Easy access to a broad array of heavy-duty truck and trailer products enables both our local and national customers to establish a local source for just-in-time inventory,” explained Mike Paxton, Vice President Business Development and Strategic Planning.
    About FleetPride, Inc.
    FleetPride, Inc. (—America’s premier nationwide supplier of heavy duty truck and trailer parts — operates 190 locations in 39 states and carries a full line of nationally recognized brand name parts, as well as an assortment of exclusive brand parts. In addition, FleetPride offers in-house remanufactured products such as brake shoes and driveline components. Truck and trailer repair services are also offered at a number of locations.
    About FleetCare
    FleetCare ( — America’s premier heavy duty truck and trailer service center network — has over 185 service providers across the country. FleetCare offers services for all makes and models at all locations, 24/7 toll-free locator service, dedicated website, highly trained technicians, brand name parts, nationwide parts warranty and roadside assistance in many locations.
    SOURCE FleetPride, Inc.
    Mark Borkowski, pres.
    Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp
    (416) 368-8466 ext. 232 or

  4. Dear Lou:
    I have sought out the best analysis as to what the current state of the international and North economy will be. Long time award winning financial columnist has come up with some very compelling arguments.
    The trends for the transportation require that companies have to make dramatic changes. Those that do, will survive, those that do not will be sold at auction.
    Mark Borkowski, pres.
    Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp
    (416) 368-8466 ext. 232
    The world economy has no easy way out of the mire
    By Martin Wolf
    Published: February 23 2010 21:49 | Last updated: February 23 2010 21:49
    Anybody who looks carefully at the world economy will recognise that a degree of monetary and fiscal stimulus unprecedented in peacetime is all that is prodding it along, not only in high-income countries, but also in big emerging ones. The conventional wisdom is that it will also be possible to manage a smooth exit. Nothing seems less likely. So let us consider the endgame, instead.
    We must start from the reverse side of the stimulus coin: the private sector is now spending far less than its aggregate income. Forecasts in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s latest Economic Outlook imply that in six of its members (the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, the UK and Ireland) the private sector will run a surplus of income over spending greater than 10 per cent of gross domestic product this year. Another 13 will have private surpluses between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of GDP. The latter includes the US, with 7.3 per cent. The eurozone private surplus will be 6.7 per cent of GDP and that of the OECD as a whole 7.4 per cent.
    Moreover, the shift in the private sector balance between 2007 and 2010 is forecast to exceed 10 per cent of GDP in no fewer than eight OECD member countries (see chart). It is also forecast to exceed 5 per cent of GDP in another eight. In the US, it is forecast to be 9.6 per cent of GDP. In the eurozone, it is forecast at 5.5 per cent of GDP and in the OECD at 7.3 per cent. Depression threatened.
    Note that such huge shifts towards frugality will have occurred, despite the unprecedented monetary loosening. While the latter helped prevent a still-greater collapse in private spending, the huge fiscal deficits, largely the result of automatic stabilisers, have been no less important. If governments had tried to close fiscal deficits, as they attempted to do in the 1930s, we would be in another Great Depression.
    So how do we exit? To answer the question, we need to agree on how we entered. A big part of the answer is that a series of bubbles helped keep the world economy driving forward over the past three decades. Behind these, however, lay a credit super-bubble, which burst in 2008. This is why private spending imploded and fiscal deficits exploded.
    William White, former chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements, is a leading proponent of the view that monetary policy errors, particularly by the Federal Reserve, have driven the world economy. Richard Duncan offers a similar, but more radical, critique in his thought-provoking new book, The Corruption of Capitalism.
    At the 75th birthday conference of the Reserve Bank of India this month, Mr White gave a lucid version of his critique. With inflation kept down by supply shocks, inflation-targeting central banks kept interest rates too low too long. The result, he argued, was a series of imbalances, not dissimilar to those in the US in the 1920s and Japan in the 1980s. In particular, with the real interest rate well below the rate of growth of economies, the expansion of credit was effectively unconstrained. Debt duly exploded upwards (see chart).
    Mr White pointed to four imbalances: asset price bubbles, notably of stocks in the 1990s and houses in the 2000s; the explosion of the balance sheet of the financial sector and increase in its exposure to risk; what “Austrian school” economists dub “malinvestment” – soaring consumption of durables in high-income countries and booming construction of housing and shopping malls in countries such as the US, and of export-oriented factories in China; and, finally, trade imbalances, with capital pouring into the US and other high-spending countries.
    I do not agree that monetary policy mistakes were responsible for all of this. But they played a role. In any case, all this had to end. Now, after the implosion, we witness the extraordinary rescue efforts. So what happens next? We can identify two alternatives: success and failure.
    By “success”, I mean reignition of the credit engine in high-income deficit countries. So private sector spending surges anew, fiscal deficits shrink and the economy appears to being going back to normal, at last. By “failure” I mean that the deleveraging continues, private spending fails to pick up with any real vigour and fiscal deficits remain far bigger, for far longer, than almost anybody now dares to imagine. This would be post-bubble Japan on a far wider scale.
    Unhappily, the result of what I call success would probably be a still bigger financial crisis in future, while the results of what I call failure would be that the fiscal rope would run out, even though reaching the end might take longer than worrywarts fear. Yet the big point is that either outcome ultimately leads us to a sovereign debt crisis. This, in turn, would surely result in defaults, probably via inflation. In essence, stretched balance sheets threaten mass private sector bankruptcy and a depression, or sovereign bankruptcy and inflation, or some combination of the two.
    I can envisage two ways by which the world might grow out of its debt overhangs without such a collapse: a surge in private and public investment in the deficit countries or a surge in demand from the emerging countries. Under the former, higher future income would make today’s borrowing sustainable. Under the latter, the savings generated by the deleveraging private sectors of deficit countries would flow naturally into increased investment in emerging countries.
    Yet exploiting such opportunities would involve radical rethinking. In countries like the UK and US, there would be high fiscal deficits over an extended period, but also a matching willingness to promote investment. Meanwhile, high-income countries would have to engage urgently with emerging countries, to discuss reforms to global finance aimed at facilitating a sustained net flow of funds from the former to the latter.
    Unfortunately, nobody is seized of such a radical post-crisis agenda. Most people hope, instead, that the world will go back to being the way it was. It will not and should not. The essential ingredient of a successful exit is, instead, to use the huge surpluses of the private sector to fund higher investment, both public and private, across the world. China alone needs higher consumption.
    Let us not repeat past errors. Let us not hope that a credit-fuelled consumption binge will save us. Let us invest in the future, instead.
    More columns at
    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

  5. N. Royce Curry says:

    The future of the truck transportation industry involves inevitable consolidation comensurate with tough times. Inevitably, it also involes a number of not-so-quick fixes. By quick fixes we mean those that come under the heading of skirts, boat tails and fairings. The global heading being “Greening” a catch-all phrase associated with the future of the planet is nevertheless impacting road transportation as it does others. Confining these commments to Lou’s topic “What’s the future of trucking”. We see a “NEW” type of configuration and one that will allow a new start to design engineering of a more efficient trucking industry. NZR D-TRAINS, love it or hate it, offer the transition to next generation truck/trailer, tractor/semi-trailer, Dump truck industry profitability. This is yes, out-of-the-box thinking that cannot be ignored if this industry is to be maintained even expanded. We beleive that only by imbracing this innovative non-invasive approach can the future of trucking get a grip on itself. The present day pessimism is palpable yes, but it need not be inevitable.
    N. R. Curry
    National Zephyr Research
    Burlington, Ont., Canada
    (905) 637-8634

  6. Arvind says:

    I read out complete article. Your complied information is really very good. Heavy transport refers to moving heavy material from place to another. For these purposes heavy transport duty trucks. As far as i experienced – Sherway Ford Truck Sales Ford Cutaway Truck and Vans in Toronto. Best Consumers Choice Awarded Truck Dealer in Toronto.
    Ford Cutaway – Ford Cutaway Van

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *