The purpose of the trucking industry remains as it was when transport was still accomplished by horse and wagon—get products from one site to another safely, on time, and for a profit. Trucks today carry more than 70 percent of the U.S. freight volume, using three million Class 8 trucks and their drivers. Meanwhile, new trends in trucking are on the horizon thanks partly to new technology, changing fuels prices, and personnel needs.
One trend that has been apparent for some months has been the lowering of fuel prices, which have rapidly decreased the mileage costs to truckers. With diesel touching $2 per gallon, a truck getting six miles per gallon now has fuels costs of under 35 cents per mile.
That certainly would seem to be good news. However, continuing price declines have meant that surcharges for hauls cannot keep up. Since many loads are contracted on a 30-day basis, that means truckers will get paid at today’s prices when the surcharge would actually have been higher last month. Next week, the surcharge will drop again, which can cut into the bottom line if companies combine it with efforts to cut mileage.
On the flip side, trucking trend watchers are predicting the lower diesel prices will boost manufacturing and trade, making for higher truck freight volume. Many truckers also are using this period of low fuel prices in the slow period to seek out new cargoes, customers, and markets.
During the past two years, the national trend has been for increased freight volumes, which have been accompanied by higher capacity and rates. Reports of tight capacity are regional, affecting areas where trucks may be difficult to book at certain times of the year. This has prompted regional brokers to find ways of keeping their carriers happy with deals like guaranteed two-way loads with the average of the round trip acting as the rate basis.
In the realm of safety, trucks soon may be making use of cameras on board like those that now are used on cars to show back up hazards behind them. Samsung recently tested a new system for trucks on the move that will show everything the driver of a semi sees in front of them to the drivers behind. The large display will be mounted on the rear of the trailer so following cars can see if it is safe to pass.
Drivers for those trucks, meanwhile, are becoming harder to find, according to a recent study by the American Trucking Associations. The shortage in drivers is approaching 50,000 and could keep expanding as truckers retire even as the industry continues to grow. That growth will spur the need to hire nearly 900,000 new drivers in the next 10 years, the study said.