ATA president says Trump administration will empower trucking industry

PHOENIX, Az. – American Trucking Associations (ATA) president and CEO Chris Spear opened Omnitracs Outlook 2017 by telling attendees that he wants to be a partner, not an impediment to the newly-elected Donald Trump administration.

Spear said he believes Trump will be a catalyst of innovation who will empower the trucking industry, and not be a president who will favor additional mandates.

“He’s going to create an environment that empowers all of us to step up, to lead, not follow and provide an opportunity to help him achieve those lofty goals,” Spear said of President Trump. “It’s our obligation and our responsibility to step up and do something.”

Spear said the trucking industry, and the general public, must wade through the distractions surrounding the new president and focus on his actual policies, which he said is what truly matters.

“This president has gotten into power and taken a much different approach, very unorthodox,” he said. “I’m not taking about the 140 characters, I’m not talking about the war on the media, I’m talking about the fact that he is the first president that I can recall in history who’s going to walk into Washington owing nobody anything. This president is pretty much a freelancer.”

Spear told the audience that people should not worry about Trump’s tweets or battles with the media, but concentrate on his agenda and what it means to trucking as an industry.

“If we can take the time to filter all that noise out and focus on the opportunities that lie ahead with this president, and the fact that he is not loyal to anybody in Washington, we could put some pretty big wins on the board,” Spear said. “And that excites me and my team. We have an opportunity to do some really amazing things.”

One of those amazing things Spear highlighted was Trump’s proposal to put $1 trillion on the table toward infrastructure, something Spear said has not been done since former president Eisenhower’s administration.

“As he takes more time to provide that detail, we need to be a part of that dialogue,” Spear said, adding that Trump’s motivation is not just about trucking, but overall job growth and what’s good for the American economy.

“We’re the catalyst for all of that,” he said. “Our story resonates better than probably anybody else’s in Washington.”

Like the implementation of the US electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, which he called innovative, Spear said wide-spread adoption of autonomous vehicles was still 20 to 25 years away.

“But the discussion of how that looks, the framework of how that feels, is happening right now,” he said. “Trucking has got to be a part of that…we cannot be left aside and leave the auto industry to define the parameters of how that looks and feels.

“This technology is here, it’s now, it’s real. And this industry has to take its seat or it’s going to get left behind.”

After acknowledging the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the trucking industry, Spear said there were three tools that must be used to get things done in the coming years.

The first was continued calls on Washington to get the ball rolling on issues important to the industry; second was the building of coalitions; and third was Truck PAC, an ATA initiative that aims to help get candidates who understand the industry’s needs and objectives get elected.

Omnitracs CEO John Graham, right, thanks ATA president and CEO Chris Spear for his opening address during Outlook 2017 in Phoenix.

John Graham

Omnitracs CEO John Graham echoed Spear’s theme of looking to the future of trucking and not getting left behind.

Graham pointed to platooning, saying it would make trucking safer and more fuel efficient, and that testing of today’s various technologies was happening all over the world.

When it comes to platooning and distance trucks can safely travel from each other, Graham said when you take out the human factor of recognition and reaction time and only have to concentrate on brake lag, it provides the opportunity for trucks to safely operate at a much closer distance.

“This is about getting efficiency of workflow,” said Graham, adding that the aerodynamics of trucks traveling closer together is beneficial.

Graham said the lead truck in a platooning formation achieves 4.5% fuel savings, while the trailing truck sees a 10% reduction.

Graham also addressed issues around driver fatigue, including what he called ‘wearables’, which help detect driver alertness and overall health.

He said alert drivers not only drive more safely, but also more efficiently, so the use of today’s technology helps the driver, fleet, general public and environment.

“Who knows where this might go,” Graham said of wearables, “but the technology is there.”

Graham also spoke to the use of drones by companies like Amazon, which he said really changes the entire distribution cycle, but will not replace the need for a truck.

“It takes some delivery costs out and adds efficiency,” he said.

Jim Carroll

Futurist, trends and innovations expert Jim Carroll advised attendees to ‘think big, start small, scale fast,’ when it came to embracing technology.

Carroll said automated trucks were one of the trends that were changing the face of trucking, and questioned what would happen to the traditional driver once that occurs.

Carroll’s overall theme was that the world changes fast, has been for some time, and the trucking industry cannot get left behind.

Several factors contribute to the ever-changing world, Carroll said, including what he called the ‘era of big transformation.’

Autonomous trucks is part of that ear, according to Carroll, who declared that trucking would be the first to move to fully autonomous vehicles because it made financial sense to do so since drivers account for one third of the operational costs pie.

Servicification, the intensifying of skills training, acceleration of innovation and the impact of future generations were also factors Carroll said would contribute to how quickly the world would continue to change.

As an example of this, Carroll pointed to statistics showing that the vast majority of children aged five to six would one day have a job that today does not even exist.

Carroll said today’s truck manufactures worry not only about putting out a quality product, but also about how to best maintain that product through diagnostics and other predictive technologies.

“We are in a world in which we can determine when parts and components in a truck are going to break down,” Carroll said. “And we can bring it in for maintenance and thereby avoid the problem in advance of a truck breaking down on remote Arizona highway somewhere and thereby reduce downtime and costs.”

To further illustrate how the world and traditional workplace have experience a facelift over the years, and how the next generation will continue that trend, Carroll posted a quote from Manitoba’s Bison Transport on the screen that read: “It’s not how one might envision the head office of a trucking company. Youth abound in 20- and 30-something tracking payloads in the operations room – think of a flat airplane control tower – or working in the IT department (which in the last 15 years had grown to 15 from two). There’s the ‘quiet room’ for breaks. The fully stocked fitness room, the laundry room, the cafeteria.”

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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