What were the top trucking stories of 2023? Electric trucks? The economy? Autonomous trucks? AI?
Looking at some of the most popular stories on Truckinginfo.com this year, as well as my own perspective from covering trucking more than 30 years, here's my take on the most significant topics the HDT editorial team addressed in 2023.
1. Diesel Engine Emissions Regulations
New NOx (Nitrogen Oxides) reduction mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency kick in effectively in 2026 with model-year 2027 heavy-duty trucks. That means fleets looking to place orders for new trucks or fleet renewals will have to decide in the near future whether to look at some form of propulsion other than diesel or take a chance on diesel trucks equipped with new emissions-reduction technologies.
In an in-depth article, "EPA 2027 and Beyond: How Will New Low-NOx Rules Affect Fleets," Equipment Editor Jim Park examined the cost and complexity of meeting the new emissions regulations, some of the technologies we may see in EPA 2027 engines, alternatives to diesel, and the likelihood of a pre-buy.
The issue prompted a blog from Jim Park: Guinea Pigs 2.0: Can Trucking Comply with a Near Impossible NOx Reduction?
And the EPA proposed Phase 3 GHG standards in April.
Another significant emissions-related development was a “historic and unprecedented agreement” between the California Air Resources Board and major truck and engine makers in July, which should provide some much-needed flexibility for truck and engine makers in meeting the state’s stringent zero-emissions regulations.
There’s been a lot of interest in adopting more renewable fuels, such as renewable natural gas and renewable diesel, especially with Cummins developing a big-bore natural-gas engine that will address complaints about previous CNG engines lacking in power:
- Walmart Hits the Road With First Cummins ISXN Natural-Gas Engine
- Cummins Preps for Fuel-Agnostic Engine Production at Jamestown Plant
2. Zero-Emissions Trucks
In April, the California Air Resources Board finalized its Advanced Clean Fleets rule, which requires drayage trucks in the state to be all zero emissions by 2035 and for most other fleets to be entirely zero emissions by 2042, using a phased-in schedule targeting higher-polluting vehicles first.
Truck makers continued to roll out new ZEV truck models, largely in the medium-duty space, where battery-electric trucks make more economic sense.
- Mack MD Electric
- Isuzu Rolls Out Its First All-Electric Truck
- Hino Electric Versions of M- and L-Series Medium-Duty Trucks
- Daimler Announces Rizon Medium-Duty Electric Truck Brand
We may in 2024 see a heavy-duty electric truck from Navistar, which cut its teeth with the medium-duty eMV:
- Navistar Forging Ahead on Electric-Truck Development
- Q&A: Navistar’s Tobias Glitterstam on Electric Trucks
But it became apparent that getting the EV charging infrastructure in place is even a bigger challenge than getting the trucks themselves. There was a lot of interest in the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s Run on Less Electric Depot program and some of the challenges they had to overcome in deploying battery-electric trucks at scale:
- Charge 32 Electric Trucks Simultaneously? Schneider Found a Way
- Tesla Semis Shine on PepsiCo’s Long-Haul Electric Routes
- UPS Battles to overcome EV infrastructure issues in California
We've seen more growth in conversation about hydrogen as a fuel, either to power fuel-cell-electric trucks or as an alternative fuel in internal combustion engines. Nikola, in fact, declared that "The Time for Hydrogen is Right Now." Kenworth and Peterbilt announced they are working to commercialize FCEV trucks, while truck makers such as Daimler and Volvo have been testing the technology in Europe.
But there are questions about whether the world can produce enough “green” hydrogen, and if the power used to do so doesn’t negate the emissions gains from vehicles, as Jim Park explored in the April story, Is Hydrogen for Heavy Trucks a Fantasy?
3. Drivers and Marijuana
Nearly half the states now have laws legalizing recreational marijuana, with half of the general population and 41% of truck drivers now living in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, reported the American Transportation Research Institute in June.
That prompted me to write a controversial editorial: It's Time to Address Outdated Marijuana Laws [Commentary]
On top of that, even in states that have not legalized marijuana, CBD products have become popular. But it’s possible for use of CBD products to lead to positive drug tests. We looked at the risks of CBD use for commercial truck drivers in Pitfalls of CBD Use Among Commercial Drivers.
Meanwhile, oral-fluid testing for drugs was approved as an alternative to urine testing, but the end of the year arrived without a single lab certified to do this testing.
4. The Freight Recession
The freight recession has been dogging the industry for more than a year, and we've been bouncing along the bottom for half of 2023, with mixed signals about when it will head back on an upward trajectory.
The economic environment means we’ve seen some very large acquisitions, consolidations, and some companies ceasing operations. The biggest news was Yellow's exit from the less-than-truckload market.
And just a couple examples of some of the other fleet mergers and acquisitions in 2023:
- Knight-Swift to Acquire U.S. Xpress
- TFI International Adding Open-Deck Giant Daseke to its Truckload Business
5. Data, Technology, and AI
Advanced technologies are rapidly coming at the trucking industry, and there's a big gap in adoption. Some fleets are using artificial intelligence, APIs, data, telematics, and more to operate more efficiently and safely than ever. But some are still using outdated mainframes and green-screen terminals, or simple spreadsheets, or even whiteboards and paper ledgers.
Increasingly, I believe, it's the ones who are out front in adopting this technology that will get ahead, while the ones that still want to do things the way their dad or even grandfather did it are going to find themselves out of the industry.
A few of the major stories we ran in 2023 in this area:
- How Technology is Making Logistics More Efficient
- How Trucking Fleets Are Putting Data to Work
- The Promise of Predictive Maintenance
- How Fleets Are Using Trailer Telematics
- Trimble Looks to Future of AI in Trucking
When people think about AI in trucking, they likely think about autonomous trucks. 2023 was a tough year for the autonomous-truck-technology business, with Embark, Waymo, and TuSimple stepping back from or exiting the market. Other companies, however, appear to be continuing on their path, such as Kodiak, Aurora, Torc Robotics/Daimler, and Volvo Autonomous Solutions.
Meanwhile, FMCSA is trying to figure out how it would regulate driverless trucks.
Which brings me to the sixth 2023 hot topic I wanted to highlight. While environmental regulations were a big deal, the federal government forged ahead with a number of safety-related regulatory proposals:
Mandatory speed limiters have not yet been officially proposed, but insiders believe a formal notice of proposed rulemaking is imminent. It's been a controversial issue, as has a rule proposed this year to require automatic emergency braking on heavy-duty trucks.
At another DOT agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is mulling mandating side-underride guards for trailers.
And the FMCSA said it is looking at changing how it determines motor carrier safety fitness ratings. Plus it announced long-awaited proposed changes to its Safety Measurement System — and rejected the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences to implement a new statistical model using Item Response Theory, or IRT: FMCSA Nixes IRT in Proposed Changes in Identifying Unsafe Motor Carriers.
You can bet we'll be keeping a close eye on these topics in 2024 and will continue to bring you the news, analysis, insights and in-depth coverage on all these in more in the new year.