All That's Trucking

5 Takeaways from ATA MC&E

A new take-charge chief leads the association during times of uncertainty and fast-changing technology.

October 13, 2016

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The American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition wrapped up in Las Vegas last week, and I've had a little time to reflect on the many sessions, press conferences and exhibits and pull together my thoughts on some key themes of the convention:

Chris Spear addresses ATA MC&E as its president and CEO. Photo: Evan Lockridge
Chris Spear addresses ATA MC&E as its president and CEO. Photo: Evan Lockridge

1. We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

ATA’s new president and CEO, Chris Spear, was introduced to attendees with a fiery speech. He lambasted “cubicle-dwelling ideologues” in Washington, D.C., who he said a refusal to compromise get in the way of creating sound public policies, such as funding our nation’s infrastructure.

In private conversations I had with some ATA insiders after Spear was named the successor to Bill Graves, it became apparent to me that many ATA members were looking for someone who would push the association into a more aggressive lobbying stance, after previous lobbying efforts to fix flawed hours of service rules were seen as a failure.
Spear definitely delivered that tone in his speech in Las Vegas.

“The state of our industry is strong, but without leadership, unity or an aggressive pursuit of results, our future is uncertain,” he said. Warning trucking’s foes not to mess with the industry, he said, “If you want to throw the first proverbial punch, you’d better knock us down because you will feel the one we throw back."

This theme of unity under fire was set up during the introduction to Spear’s speech. Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card emphasized the need to unite, emphasizing the “We the people” of the constitution. And U.S. soldiers spoke of Spear from his time in Iraq, where he was the deputy representative for the Coalition Provisional Authority during the George W. Bush administration.

Martin Daum still sees Daimler taking a big piece of the truck sales pie, even though the pie will be smaller this year. Photo: Deborah Lockridge
Martin Daum still sees Daimler taking a big piece of the truck sales pie, even though the pie will be smaller this year. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

2. Muddy roads and blind curves

Everyone acknowledged that there’s a slump in truck freight and in truck sales, but no one had a clear answer for why. Uncertainty, in fact, ruled the day.

Volvo Trucks North America President Göran Nyberg said 2016 “has been a year of uncertainty. We have been thrown some curves and don’t know what’s around the next corner.”

Daimler Trucks North America President and CEO Martin Daum told reporters that the company’s projections a year ago for growth in 2016 “were much more optimistic” than reality, but the company, which sells Freightliner and Western Star trucks, is looking for a turnaround in truck sales in mid-2017. At Mack, however, Jonathan Randall, senior VP of sales, said the lean times will last “into and through next year before climbing out in 2018.”

“We are facing some headwind,” Daum said in a bit of understatement, noting that the company is now projecting that 2016 Class 8 sales in the U.S. will be around 184,000, down 26% from 2015’s 249,000.

It all feels “as if we're all running in mud, and the mud is the uncertainties of the global economy and the slow growth,” said Diane Swonk, analyst, founder and CEO of DS Economics, in a session with ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello — not to mention uncertainties about the upcoming presidential election. She cited “dearth of investment" by companies as one reason for sluggish economic growth.

However, she said, the American economy is at a “turning point,” meaning business conditions are expected to rebound from their current “subpar growth” for several reasons, including consumer spending and the beginnings of a rebound in the energy sector.

3. Data is king

A large number of new product and service announcements at the show promised to give fleets insight into data to help manage safety, compliance, productivity and more. A few examples:

  • HELP Inc., known for its PrePass weigh station bypass service, announced InfoRM, which helps carriers understand their Inspection Selection System (ISS) scores – the key factor enforcement agencies use to determine which trucks to pull in at the scales for inspections.
  • Noregon, known for its diagnostic tools, introduced TripVision. Available through major telematics providers, it gives a detailed, real-time view into vehicle health through any internet-connected device.
  • Vigillo and J.J. Keller & Associates teamed up to launch a Prescriptive Analytics Solution, which identifies unsafe behavior by truck drivers and then assigns training designed to address the issues. It leverages the data Vigillo routinely gathers from over 500,000 truck drivers to diagnose driver behavior that may lead to unsafe operations.

4. Technology is changing advanced in-cab safety systems

One of the other themes of announcements was in the area of advanced safety systems:
Bendix’s radar-and-camera-based Wingman Fusion collision mitigation system is now offered on Volvo VNL and VNM model trucks as the Volvo Active Driver Assist. Volvo said it’s the first to offer such a system integrated into the driver dash display.

However, the new International LT line-haul tractor from Navistar, unveiled to the press the Friday before the show and on display at the ATA expo, has Bendix’s Wingman Advance system as standard, and integrated into the dash display. And the Freightliner next-generation Cascadia on display showcased a dash-integrated version of the proprietary Detroit Assurance system.

Lytx announced enhancements to its camera-based system that will help fleets identify when drivers roll through a stop sign, as well as capture video when a third-party roll stability system is triggered.

Seeing Machines announced it’s offering its Guardian technology in the United States, which uses a camera system to detect and alert drivers who have fatigue-induced microsleep incidents or driver distraction.

Elon Musk, co-founder of autonomous truck start-up Otto, takes the stage at ATA. Photo: Evan Lockridge
Elon Musk, co-founder of autonomous truck start-up Otto, takes the stage at ATA. Photo: Evan Lockridge

5. Autonomous trucks are on the way.

Those advanced safety systems are also the foundation for platooning and autonomous vehicle technologies, which were the topic of a panel discussion as well as comments by Spear.

While it seems pretty certain that some forms of autonomous trucking are definitely on the way, the vision varies on just what that’s going to look like and how fast it’s going to get here. Anthony Levandowski, co-founder of the autonomous trucking startup Otto, shared his vision of self-driving trucks being built with no cabs for drivers at all, while Sean Waters, who heads up regulatory affairs at Daimler Trucks North America, said at times there seem to be more questions than answers.

Although DTNA has been a leader in demonstrating these technologies, Daum noted that what will happen with the regulatory framework is not very clear. “A, we don’t know yet what all is possible. … then you have the passenger car industry big time in it, we are coming from a completely different mindset than the passenger car guys.”

One area many agree may serve as a stepping stone toward autonomous trucks is truck platooning, which may be happening on U.S. roads as early as next year.

Jack Roberts, a freelance trucking journalist who was lead author on a recent platooning report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, called platooning a “pathway to autonomous vehicles,” and “a component in getting the industry used to autonomous systems and how they work.”

Josh Switkes, president and CEO of Peloton Technology, said it plans to bring two-truck platooning to U.S. highways as early as next year.

Because autonomous driving technologies offer “a lot of potential but also a lot of unknowns,” Spear told reporters that trucking must “take our seat at the table with other industries [primarily the automotive sector] to develop a [policy] framework without stymying innovation.”


  1. 1. Russ [ October 13, 2016 @ 09:11PM ]

    Autonomous trucks are going to be easy to hijack, force off the road or just stop them in the lane and back up to them and steal everything in the box. Awesome.


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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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