To the untrained eye, the future of trucking is looking uncertain.
Freight will always need to be transported from A to B. The question is whether that freight will continue to be transported by road – or more specifically, in trucks driven by humans.
According to the stats, 70% of all freight tonnage moved in Europe is taken by truck. The same goes for the US (also 70%) and China (higher still at 75%).
The trucking industry will undoubtedly change over the coming decades. Automation, electrification and digitalisation are already visible and hailed as the future of trucking.
Here’s a closer look at what those three trends really mean for the industry:
The case for electrification in trucking is building. Notable examples include Nikola’s hydrogen fuel cell truck and Tesla’s battery-electric semi-truck, alongside all the other innovations that are demonstrating the potential of electric trucks.
Promising higher fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions, this tech has made significant headway in recent years. In Europe, progress is being driven with more planned inner-city diesel restrictions and the total cost of ownership benefits gained from lower fuel costs.
The good news for truckers is that battery technology could see electrification remaining impractical for long-haul journeys due to the size of required battery and extended payback period.
Optimists suggest that high automation (i.e. driver input is only required when travelling over tricky terrain) will be ready by 2025, with partial automation ready by 2020.
Some countries are embracing the technology more than others. The Netherlands, for example, is considered the world’s top location for self-driving vehicles due to its infrastructure. A route between the cities of Helmond and Tilburg is now fully dedicated to testing self-driving cars and trucks.
From a trucking perspective, while driverless technology is likely to advance fairly rapidly in the coming years, trucks without any human driving input are unlikely to be on the cards until after the technology has matured. In short, not for some time yet.
Trucking operations can gain a lot from digitalisation. Data analytics and AI algorithms can be used to automate the largely manual process of matching capacity and demand.
In the same way that booking platforms have disrupted the travel industry, freight booking and optimisation platforms could do the same for trucking. The more streamlined the process, the more capacity can improve – important when you consider around 20% of trucks in Western countries travel empty.
It is clear that these technologies have the potential to reshape the industry’s business model. However, how long it takes before we see any significant changes is yet to be seen.
As more tech players enter the market, freight companies will face mounting pressure. The most likely outcome is a blend of conventional and autonomous trucking. To remain competitive, trucking companies need to invest in, embrace, and apply these technologies within their processes and operations.
Where do you think the future of trucking will take us?