Today, we're looking at seven trends in trucking. Perhaps you've noticed 2020 has been described as a perfect storm?
The term "perfect storm" is meant to describe the drastic overlapping circumstances affecting events in seemingly every sphere of life—economic, social, political—and, in this case, trucking.
The term "perfect storm" is a reference to the 2000 George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg movie The Perfect Storm. That movie is based on an actual perfect storm that hit the Eastern seaboard of the United States in 1991 during the week of Halloween. The storm combined Hurricane Grace, a nor'easter, and a wicked cold front. Meanwhile, across the country on the back side of that same cold front, the Midwest was hit by The Halloween Blizzard of 1991—which in certain ways was worse than the perfect storm.
That storm certainly sounds a bit like 2020. But we also know that every crisis situation brings opportunities for innovation. So all things considered, let's try to answer this twofold question:
Looking back, the trucking industry seemed to operate much the same way for years, if not decades. For example, the two decades on either side of 1991 looked about the same for the trucking industry: paper bills of lading, pay phones, and a puff of diesel smoke. That's no longer the case.
Specifically, technology has found a home in the trucking industry. And with tech comes an increased, Moore's law–like rate of innovation. Thus, today we have a list of the top trucking trends to follow in 2020. But if there's one overarching theme here, I'll tell you right now it's tech. That said, here's what's trending:
Grab a life jacket, and let's dive in!
Technology is making a big splash in 2020. Touchless shipping documents introduced by Vector arrived just in time to not only help save the logistics industry from catastrophic disruption, but also to advance the whole game to the next level.
In essence, touchless documents—and the digitization of data in general—compress the time involved in nearly every aspect of every shipment.
The potential for chaos on every load of freight will never stop trending. That's more true in 2020 than ever. In response to the element of uncertainty, touchless documents help create safer, cleaner, and faster transactions for drivers, carriers, and suppliers.
Cash is still king. But fleet managers are recognizing that the worst-case scenario has never seemed closer or worse. In response to the perfect storm of 2020, companies like Vector have innovated. Now the smart money trend is to spend wisely on a common-sense safety feature like touchless documents. Touchless documents are certainly having their moment in 2020.
A series of layoffs swept the globe after the worldwide economy jammed on the Jake brake in the second quarter of 2020. Unfortunately, 2019 was already considered a bloodbath in terms of driver layoffs and carrier bankruptcy filings. Along with more driver layoffs in 2020, the brokerage side of logistics added another few thousand layoffs to the unemployment rolls.
That said, there are signs of life and optimism amid the uncertainty. According to reports, logistics jobs are on the rebound. After all, we know that trucking makes the economy happen. Thus, until trucks drive themselves, drivers will be essential workers.
Speaking of which, if you're concerned about existential threats to trucking jobs, there's perhaps no greater fear than autonomous vehicles, right?
Actually, tap the brakes on self-driving vehicles for now. While self-driving trucks are something of a perennial hot topic, the hype has dissipated in 2020. After some safety issues, momentum for the autonomous vehicle movement seems to have died down somewhat in the last year.
Vector CEO Will Chu shared his philosophy about technology when he appeared on a recent radio interview with Road Dog Trucking. Chu explained that in his opinion, "The best technology involves a man-and-machine symbiosis." In other words, the best technology never replaces humans, but augments us instead. The best tech makes us better!
Another trend of 2020 is the rising tide of electric vehicles (EVs). While autonomous vehicles seem like hype, electric vehicles are filling the streets. This is certainly true in the consumer vehicle market, where Tesla and Elon Musk have captured imaginations and headlines.
Elon aside, don't sleep on this trend—EVs are coming to trucking. Yes, the primary knock on EVs are battery life and fuel range. But statistics show that 80% of shipments occur within a 250-mile radius. In addition, battery tech keeps pushing range ever farther.
Original equipment manufacturers see the opportunity to sell more trucks. Carriers see an opportunity to potentially save a few bucks. And environmentalists see the opportunity to save a few ducks. EVs are trending like a win-win-win. But not everything is rosy, as trends show that overall truck sales are down as much as 50% in 2020.
The world of cryptocurrency and blockchain has been buzzing in and out of headlines for years now. Despite global uncertainty and massive infusions of stimulus cash, crypto has remained a hedged bet for investors, albeit with much less hype.
In reality, it's not crypto but blockchain technology that's getting the lion's share of interest in logistics. Blockchain makes sense considering the focus logistics already places on data accumulation and shipment tracking. Indeed, the neutral-and-shared nature of blockchain is intriguing the logistics industry.
Remote work is a major trend of 2020. Most analysts see this trend sticking long-term. By some accounts, overall productivity has actually increased since the work-from-home (WFH) trend began. Obviously, drivers live on the front line out on the road. But many non-driver, back-office roles were moved to home offices. Indeed, there will be a certain percentage of employees who go on to have long, productive careers—but never return to an office again!
That said, if there's a byproduct of the remote work trend, it will be the further digitization of paperwork. For example, you can't send a paper BOL across that Slack feed of yours unless you digitize it! The perfect scan software and touchless paperwork software is the backbone of a smart organization's tech stack.
E-commerce is booming. Online shopping and shipping is standard practice for many of us now. Subsequently, last-mile or final-mile deliveries have seen a windfall of activity. Many people view free shipping like it's the tooth picks and mints at a restaurant. Free. Help yourself. Thanks for coming!
And that's the good news. As the live feed on my Ring videos can attest, all those deliveries require drivers (until drones go mainstream).
On the other hand, e-commerce's business-to-consumer shipments are considered cheap freight. Efficiency will improve the profitability of final-mile deliveries. In other words, carriers and shippers working in e-commerce need to integrate technology to go touchless and streamline their workflows.
Time will tell how perfect a storm 2020 was. Without a doubt, it's already been pretty wicked. But I think it will also prove to be a watershed moment of innovation, especially for trucking.
The worst-case scenario has never been closer—or seemed worse. No one wants to see an entire operation shut down. Thus, organizations need to get ahead of the storm and implement measures that ensure the safety of their personnel—and thus their business.
All the trends point toward tech. If a new technology seems costly, imagine the impact of a shutdown. Remember, there's the Perfect Storm—but there's also a Halloween Blizzard right behind it.
Fear not. Every storm will pass. Growing pains in an organization will always be a trend, especially when you're trying to move the needle forward.
Get ahead of the next storm. Go touchless. Stay safe. Keep calm.
And just keep trucking.
This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.