Technology is poised to take $236 million in inefficiencies out of trucking operations over the next four years.
Jeff Sass, senior vice president, sales and marketing for Navistar, made that stunning prediction as the kickoff speaker at the 2018 Heavy Duty Trucking Exchange in Scottsdale, Arizona, May 9, painting a picture of likely changes that will affect trucking in the near future.
“The only constant in trucking is change,” Sass told the audience of fleet executives and industry suppliers. “It doesn’t matter where you look today — regulation, deregulation, legislation, fuel prices, technology, or the amount you can, or can’t haul — something is driving change in your operations.”
That said, Sass noted, the new technology quickly coming on line will give fleets opportunities to overcome operational issues and inefficiencies in new ways. “‘Big data’ is a buzzword today,” he said. “And it’s a very simple concept: taking information generated during the use of a truck and leveraging that data to make better use of your assets.”
“If our industry could get just 5% more efficiency out of our operations, it could possibly eliminate the driver shortage entirely.”
Used correctly, Sass said, that information can help fleets achieve better load matches, improve routing, and overcome structural challenges such as the ever-present driver shortage. “If our industry could get just 5% more efficiency out of our operations, it could possibly eliminate the driver shortage entirely.”
If fleets use data and other technology to work smarter, Sass said, operational inefficiencies can be ironed out in virtually every aspect of fleet management. Surveying the room, Sass asked fleet managers how many had a driver waiting at a dock for more than two hours in the last three days, and got a majority of raised hands in response. “What if you used big data to have a dock open and available as your truck pulls into a facility?” he asked. “More than that — what if there were people waiting on that dock to start unloading when the truck pulled in? And what if the people in that warehouse already knew what cargo that truck is carrying and where it’s going next? The technology to do those things is already out there today.”
Electric Trucks, Autonomous Vehicles on the Way
But data isn't the only technology changing trucking. Turning to electric trucks, Sass said that they are “absolutely” coming in the near future — but that the industry still has much to learn about operating them efficiently.
“Electric truck routes need to predictable, constant, with the vehicle coming home every night,” he said. “That means shorter routes. Which is why at Navistar we’ve selected school buses as the first market we’ll target with electric vehicles.” Sass predicted a full entry into the electric vehicle space by Navistar late next year or early in 2020.
“There are still issues with electric vehicles that have to be resolved, though,” he cautioned. “As yet, there is no infrastructure to support them. You can’t just plug these trucks into a wall socket to recharge them. And there are huge variations in calculating costs." Electricity in one state can be three times more expensive than in another, he pointed out. "And of course we have to deal with issues like recharging times and range.”
On another hot tech topic, autonomous vehicle technology, Sass said the most immediate benefits will be in terms of safety. “Traffic fatalities in the United States today are equal to a full 737 airliner falling out of the sky once a week,” he said. “Autonomous systems give us a tool to cut those fatalities significantly. But this technology will also significantly change the way fleets operate.”
Although legislation relating to autonomous vehicles is currently lacking, Sass expects to see that issue begin to be resolved in the next four to six years. “We are also going to have to redefine issues that pertain to the driver in an autonomous vehicle,” he said. “How much focus is required while in autonomous mode? What is time in autonomous mode worth in terms of hours of service? These are all things we’ll have to work out over time.”
And, of course, he notes that there are still issues with autonomous vehicles that will have to be worked out as well. “If you have a truck that is programmed not to run into a Toyota,” he said, “then it’s not going to take crooks long to get three Toyotas and slow a truck down until it’s stopped and steal it’s cargo. So I think we’re going to need humans on board — just as with airliners — for quite a long time. Otherwise, we’re going to have to start building trailers like bank vaults to safeguard cargo.”
Although there will be growing pains, Sass thinks the end result will be more efficient fleets, safer highways, and cleaner cities. “Everything in this room rode on a truck at some point,” he closed by saying. “That is one thing that is not going to change going forward. You will just use technology to move that freight differently than you do today.”