Fleet Owner | ELDs, NAFTA, Uber: Disruptions Ahead for Trucking

06.14.17 | Cristina Commendatore, Fleet Owner

Electronic logging devices (ELDs), key trade deals, companies like Uber stepping into the game, and the timeline for autonomous trucks are the major issues industry analysts are keeping their eyes on right now. And according to two experts at FTR, these disruptions are happening amid a turbulent political climate, which adds uncertainty to their projections.

During FTR’s June 8 webinar on the key issues in transportation, Eric Starks, CEO & chairman of FTR Intelligence, and Larry Gross, transportation expert at FTR, noted we’re currently seeing economic growth and a bit of excess inventory in an environment of uncertainty.

“Right now, we’re seeing growth,” Starks said. “That suggests we’re in a relatively healthy environment. Is this a short term blip or will we start seeing fundamental growth? Right now we don’t see that looming recession around the corner, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be happening.”

Gross added that there is uncertainty with the current turbulent political situation, but noted that FTR experts try to leave politics out of the equation when developing their monthly state of freight forecasts.

“We look at things like the stock market which is right now forecasting a more robust growth than we were anticipating,” he said. “What we’re forecasting is there’s not going to be a whole lot of change in terms of the tax policy or in any artificial boosting of the economy in terms of spending.”

Starks and Gross mentioned the most significant trade disruption ahead that could impact freight flows for trucking and intermodal is NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).

“This is one of the areas that the Trump administration can make moves without a lot of congressional input or insight,” Gross explained. “We’ve seen some saber rattling in terms of NAFTA.”

He added that Trump’s threats to withdraw from or renegotiate NAFTA have already impacted cross-border moves between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico. “In general we see a lot more downside in terms of disruption of cross-border trade rather than upside,” according to Gross.

“Right now NAFTA is our major concern,” Starks said. “Where Mexico and Canada are much more uneasy about things, the likelihood that things could change over the next several years is higher. What does that freight movement look like? It’s really hard to tell what that full impact is. That’s what we’re looking at closely now.”

A more long-term disruption than NAFTA is the adoption timeline of autonomous trucks and the public acceptance that comes with that kind of disruptive innovation.

However, at some point with platooning, Gross added, fleets are going to ask themselves if they really need a driver in the second or third vehicle of a platoon. “It will essentially be a road train where maybe only the first truck of a platoon of two or three trucks is manned by a driver,” he noted.

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