Truck Tech

Looking Forward and Backward

Blog Commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior EDitor

December 15, 2017

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If nothing else, it seems likely 2017 will go down as 'The Year of the Electric Truck,' says Senior Editor Jack Roberts. Photo: Mitsubishi Fuso
If nothing else, it seems likely 2017 will go down as 'The Year of the Electric Truck,' says Senior Editor Jack Roberts. Photo: Mitsubishi Fuso

It’s always customary this time of year to take a look back as things wind down and see if there are any lessons to be learned or if any visible trends emerged. And I think it’s safe to say that 2017 was one for the books.

It is very possible that the past year will go down as a “transformative” one – a year where people stopped talking about the future and started to live it. If nothing else, it will go down as the year of the electric truck, given moves by Nikola, Mitsubishi Fuso, International, Volkswagen and, of course, Tesla.

Of course, diesel trucks didn’t do badly at all, either, during 2017. We saw several OEMs launch next-generation Class 8 models. Volvo went all in with its new VNL and VNR tractors. International stepped up, too, emerging from the long darkness of its EGR engine debacle and to put forward impressive examples of forward-thinking technology with its new HV and HX models. Mack stepped up as well, with the new Anthem tractor – which is going to be a definite hit, if HDT website page views are any indication.

And it’s worth noting that all of these trucks have been engineered to leverage all the new technology coming our way over the next decade: rolling technology platforms that will easily adopt telematics systems, new vehicle sensors, ELDs, more integrated advanced safety systems, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication systems, and even near-term autonomous technology such as platooning capability.'

All of which tells us that if the “future” isn’t quite here yet, it’s rushing at us like – well – a semi-truck. Look for that trend to accelerate as these new models start moving into the truck population and fleets begin taking advantage of their new capabilities.

There’s more good news on the economic front, too. Say what you will about Donald Trump, but a great many businessmen and corporate officers breathe easier when a Republican is in the White House. So, while the numbers don’t show a massive uptick in economic activity over the final year of the Obama Administration, consumer confidence seems to be high, adding to expectations that 2018 will be another good year in terms of freight. Personally, I’d like to see a comprehensive infrastructure plan pass Congress, with an emphasis on new technology to allow the United States to compete with Europe and China. There’s no doubt an investment in our country’s future like that would be a massive boon for the trucking industry (as well as construction). But looking at increased expenditures based on the Trump Administration’s increased military spending and concerns that the new Republican tax plan will add something around $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

On the negative side of the ledger, 2017 didn’t do trucking any favors in terms of resolving both the driver or technician shortage. And, as anyone in this industry knows, these are two “sleeper” problems that one day are going to wake up, rear their heads ,and cause massive problems for both trucking as an industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.

We are seeing some new ideas being tried for paying drivers. But the technician shortage seems to only be getting worse – with only a trickle of new, qualified, diesel technicians the industry badly needs entering into the pipeline.

Taken as a whole, a lot happened last year. It’s hard to say what OEMs and industry suppliers have up their sleeves going into 2018. But it’s safe to assume that with all the big product and model introductions out of the way, next year will be a bit quieter, with most of the news centering on upgrades and enhancements as those new rigs hit the highways.

But, on the other hand, this is a new type of trucking industry, where things are moving at light speed. So, it’s likely there will be a lot of splashy news to report on, talk about, and digest. We know, for example, that Peloton is promising to take the wraps off its truck platooning system at some point. And there’s bound to be more movements by Nikola and retrofit autonomous technology developer Otto. And I personally am still waiting on the first stab at an all-autonomous, coast-to-coast truck drive to prove out the reliability and viability of this new technology.

In short, there’s going to be plenty to talk about next year. So, stay tuned. Because the HDT staff will certainly be out there reporting on it all, and trying to make sense of it all – no matter what comes down the pike in 2018.


  1. 1. Dennis [ December 17, 2017 @ 01:47AM ]

    It will take more than just more pay to attract and retain good drivers. Companies have bought this so-called "driver shortage" upon themselves, and they know everything they need to do to fix it, but refuse to do it. Pay, respect, quality of life on the road, etc, all play into keeping drivers. For me, you can pay me as much as you want but if you make every day miserable for me by treating me like I'm a complete idiot, that you know more about my job than I do even though you have never done it, allow customers to keep me sitting around while the clock runs on and on, etc., I will not stay with you. Increasing pay is a good start, but there is more than just that.


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Author Bio

Jack Roberts

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Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.


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