Ceramic trucks? Mobile offices? Hybrids? Globalization? Dedicated truckways? As we reach the end of 2020, I thought it would be interesting to get in our time machine, travel back a decade or more, and look back at some predictions we published regarding the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
The Driver Shortage
A decade ago, we were talking about a driver shortage. We’re still talking about the driver shortage, and the problem of aging drivers continues to be a problem.
In 2009, we reported on that "the size of the white male population of ages 35-54 – a demographic group that currently provides over half of all truck drivers – will decline by over 3 million persons between 2004 and 2014.” We reported that “by 2015 or 2020, we'll be experiencing the greatest exodus of that particular bunch of workers. They were 35-54 when ATA did the study in 2004. Today, that group is between 41 and 60.”
In 2019, ATA issued a report saying the driver shortage could threaten the supply chain. “If conditions don’t change substantively, our industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. And those age demographics are still a problem. Costello said the median age of over-the-road truck drivers is 46 and that some trucking segments have an even higher median age—it’s 57 for private fleet drivers.
U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in mid-2020 said the nation’s 65-and-older population has grown rapidly since 2010, driven by the aging of Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. The 65-and-older population grew by over a third during the past decade, contributing to an increase in the national median age from 37.2 years in 2010 to 38.4 in 2019.
But as the nation has continued to gray, it has also grown more racially and ethnically diverse, the Census Bureau noted. While the white population has grown by 4.3% since 2010, the Hispanic population has risen by 20%, the Black population by 11.6%, and the Asian population by 29.3%. Those demographics are being reflected in the driver population. According to a recent American Trucking Associations driver-shortage analysis we reported on in 2019, 40.4% of truck drivers were minorities in 2018, a jump of 13.8 percentage points from the 26.6% figure of five years before.
A Global Truck 2020 Study, put out in 2009 by IBM, predicted that technology would be central to the trucking industry by 2020. And obviously that's the case -- although perhaps not it exactly the ways it predicted.
That survey’s expectation that “technology will be tied not only to the truck itself, but also to the roads and traffic signals, increasing the interaction and predictive analytical safety capabilities for carriers,” has lagged behind.
Bill Wade, managing partner of Wade & Partners, a consulting firm based specializing in the worldwide vehicle aftermarket and distribution, predicted in 2010 that “more functions will be transferred from the driver and technician to the truck itself. Active Driver Assistance Systems will coordinate advanced detection, braking, stability and collision avoidance for the driver controlling an electronically coupled caravan through a major city on a [dedicated truck-only] truckway. Creating almost a neural network, the driver will be connected with his vehicle, nearby vehicles, the external environment, shipper/receivers and even his own freight.”
While we do indeed have advanced driver assistance systems, both the IBM and Wade predictions involving vehicle-to-infrastructure communications have not progressed as many thought they would.
On the other hand, what we have seen allowing some of these connections is the incredible growth and prevalence of the Internet, including the Internet of Things (although this 2010 PC World article predicted that “the Internet will be a network of things, not computers.”) We first wrote about the Internet of Things in 2014.
Meanwhile, in the truck cab, Clem Driscoll, C.J. Driscoll & Associates, during a Heavy Duty Dialogue session in 2010 looking at the trucks of the next decade, made several predictions that were spot-on:
- Growing use of technology for safety and security. “We believe all major trucking fleets will monitor driver behavior to reduce accident risk,” he said, saying high-tech safety systems like lane departure or proximity warnings, voice recognition and text-to-speech technologies would become common.
- The truck will become a mobile office, with scanner, printer, Internet access, etc.
- All major trucking fleets will use navigation systems that will route trucks based on truck attributes, traffic conditions and weather/road conditions.
- Increased use of technology for reducing fleet operating costs, especially monitoring everything that can impact fuel consumption, such as mpg, rpm, engine performance, tire inflation, speed.
However, he predicted that fleets would largely stick with installed systems rather than handheld options, except for the smallest fleets. Yet since the advent of the electronic logging device mandate, we’ve seen some very large fleets go with handheld devices and mobile tablets that can be used as ELDs, for electronic proof of delivery, for remote driver training, for electronic driver vehicle inspection reports, and more.
Similarly, at that same HDDA event, Sandeep Kar said telematics would allow fleet managers to reduce operating costs, increase productivity, help screen unsafe drivers, reduce unsafe driving practices, and improve compliance with regulations. One problem, Kar said, was "too much data and too little information.” There has been progress in this area in recent years, with advanced analytics, dashboards, and artificial intelligence helping fleets get actionable information, not just data.
One prediction from that IBM report that definitely has taken place is increasing globalization.
"Truck manufacturers are just beginning to establish their global footprint, while light vehicle manufacturers have fought the hard battles of platform creation, process standardization and the development of global supply chains," IBM said.
At that Heavy Duty Dialogue event, globalization was a theme addressed by a number of speakers. Juergen Reers, partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, said we should expect to see an increasing number of partnerships between truck and component manufacturers in the developed world and those in emerging markets.
As we've seen growth in development of new-vehicle technologies such as electric and autonomous trucks, that globalization is increasingly more evident, including partnerships between companies all over the world. Global engine platforms are tweaked for each market's preferences and emissions regulations. Traton (formerly VW Truck and Bus) is buying Navistar. Nikola is partnering with Italian truck maker Iveco on electric trucks and plans to offer a Euro-style cabover here. South Korea's Hyundai is planning to test fuel-cell electric trucks in the U.S. next year. ZF, after buying Wabco, plans to bring a transmission and active steering systems to the U.S. in 2021. I could go on and on with the examples.
Sustainability and the environment
A third trend identified in the IBM report, sustainability, is also very much in play today in the trucking industry. “As environmental and fuel efficiency standards are adopted and safety capabilities mandated, the trucking industry will have to make changes to meet these rules,” it said.
Heavy Duty Dialogue speakers also discussed environmental concerns, predicting the use of hybrid powertrains to address those concerns. Sandeep Kar, global program manager of commercial vehicle research for Frost & Sullivan, said at the time, "There is imminent and rising demand for green, fuel-efficient trucks.” He predicted that by 2020, 15% of Class 6-8 trucks manufactured in North America would be hybrids.
While the emphasis on sustainability has indeed proven to be true, commercial-truck hybrids have not lived up to the promise seen a decade ago. What we have seen instead are an increased focus on fuel economy. Alternative fuels such as renewable diesel and renewable natural gas are being used in some areas, but much of the focus is on the development of battery-electric trucks that are just now becoming available.
In our June 2010 issue, Jim Park wrote a story on the Future of Fuel Economy, looking at some of the issues and initiatives that would become the greenhouse gas/fuel economy regulations. At that time, an Environmental Protection Agency analysis concluded that long-haul heavy tractor-trailers could achieve a fuel economy of more by 10 mph by 2030 – up from the 5-6.5 mph typical range at the time – using EPA SmartWay technologies as well as improved engine technologies.
We’ve made progress in that area.
The North American Council for Freight Efficiency has been collecting data from fuel-conscious fleets in its Annual Fleet Fuel Study. The average fleet-wide fuel economy of the trucks in this study was 7.27 mpg in 2018, compared to a national average of 5.98 mpg.
For fleets that truly push the envelope in spec’ing trucks and training drivers for fuel economy, that 10-mpg figure is close to reality. During NACFE’s Run on Less demonstration in September 2017, the tractor-trailers equipped with the best of the best currently available technologies attained 10.1 mpg. And in October 2019, the group conducted a second Run on Less, where the average for the more demanding regional-haul duty cycles reached 8.3 mpg.
Bill Wade predicted back in 2010 that we would see an increase of diesel thermal efficiency by at least 70% by now. We’re definitely not there yet. The EPA’s SuperTruck program, a public-private research partnership that allowed truck and component makers to explore freight efficiency research, was aiming for brake thermal efficiency of at least 50%. SuperTruck II, now under way, aims for 55%. However, those SuperTruck projects achieved 12 and 13 mpg, and many of the technologies developed in those projects have found their way into production vehicles.
What did we miss?
Bill Wade’s predictions on changes to trucks themselves have not come to pass, and even 10 years later feel like they would be pretty far off: the use of ceramics and polymers and more recyclable materials in construction; “ferro-magnetic fluids” instead of traditional friction materials in brakes; organic LED technology; vehicles sporting 500-1000-volt systems to run electric accessories; and lubricants and coolant with a substantial biomass component.
On the other hand, predictions HDT published a decade ago did not foresee the rise in autonomous-truck technologies and full-electric trucks that we have seen the past year or two, although semi-autonomous platooning convoys were seen as a possibility.
In 2014, Daimler Trucks shared its vision of trucks that can drive themselves with reporters in Germany. The autonomous truck project, called Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, was followed the next year by the Freightliner Inspiration Truck driving itself across Hoover Dam.
Since then, we’ve seen lots of startups in the space, some of which have already folded (such as Otto and Starsky), and some of which are now teaming up with traditional truck OEs. (Watch for a feature on the status of autonomous truck tech in our March issue, and check out a number of HDT Talks Trucking podcasts on the topic.)
The speed with which battery-electric trucks have advanced is dizzying. Daimler Trucks North America’s 38-vehicle fleet of battery-electric Freightliner eCascadias and eM2s in November surpassed 500,000 miles in real-world operation with Freightliner customers. Kenworth, Peterbilt, and Volvo have all announced Class 8 battery-electric trucks available for customer order. (Kenworth and Peterbilt also have medium-duty). Mack is commercializing battery-electric refuse trucks. BYD is already selling electric tractors in delivery and drayage operations. Startups Nikola and Tesla may actually finally have their electric trucks available late in 2021. Smaller names such as Lion and Xos are in there, too, and there are too many van and medium-duty options to even get into here. And several truck makers are pushing the development of fuel-cell electric trucks to be available by the end of this decade.
Anyone want to share any predictions for the next 10 years?
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