Five trucking trends shaping 2019

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Updated Feb 4, 2019

The pace of change in trucking seems to have picked up in recent years. As there’s no reason to think it will slow up during 2019, here are some expectations in five broad areas:

COMPENSATION. Trucking shifted down a gear as it concluded a banner year in 2018. A decent but not great 2019 is forecast for trucking, and most of what I’ve been reading is saying the same or worse for the general economy. Even so, low unemployment and relatively strong freight demand is a recipe for above-average compensation hikes for owner-operators.

Daimler has cast doubts on the cost-effectiveness of platooning with autonomous trucks.Daimler has cast doubts on the cost-effectiveness of platooning with autonomous trucks.

AUTONOMOUS TRUCKS. Some of the glitz has faded. Don’t expect any serious restoration in 2019. One recent telling development was Daimler Trucks & Buses concluding that platooning – long touted as an early application for autonomous trucking – isn’t looking so promising. “The technology we would have to put in,” says CEO Martin Daum, outweighs the savings.

Another indicator was this year’s treatment of autonomous driving, in recent years a hot topic during the annual Consumer Electronics Show. “The hype has died down considerably as the technical challenges and regulatory hurdles of putting self-driving cars on the road have started to settle in,” reported the Wall Street Journal from last month’s event. Trucking faces the same, if not higher, hurdles.

That’s good news for driver jobs. No one familiar with the challenges of Level 5 autonomy, where there is no driver-monitor in the truck, is predicting a complete over-the-road trucking debut even in the next decade.

ELECTRIC TRUCKS. Unlike autonomy, this twin whiz kid of the trucking world has a clearer path for development. This year through next, more fleet testing and then commercial production of electric and hydrogen-electric trucks will be under way with newcomers Nikola, Tesla and Thor, as well as established truck makers, all working with some size of truck, as heavy as Class 8. Expect scrambling as truck stops and other players try to build infrastructure to support alt-energy trucks.

And I can’t help but think some of the e-truck proponents are salivating over the day when diesel prices bounce high again. Like any honeymoon, the surprisingly low prices of petroleum-based fuels won’t last forever.

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INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS. If you have any doubt about the legal complexities surrounding this business model, read Senior Editor Todd Dills’ story about California, which is being featured here in segments this week and in a seven-page special report in the February Overdrive. Whatever happens in Congress, the courts, the U.S. Department of Labor, the IRS or elsewhere, the legitimacy of leased owner-operator arrangements will not be totally clarified by year-end. Don’t be surprised if it gets even more confusing in California.

HOURS OF SERVICE. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will propose a revised rule, thanks largely to Administrator Ray Martinez, who has given more than lip service to that goal. True to his and drivers’ mantra, “flexibility,” the revision will try to remedy the lack of it in the current rule, notably the sleeper berth split.

As to the demon gadget that measures those hours, don’t expect changes in the electronic logging device mandate. The bright side: Whenever a new hours rule takes effect – unlikely to be in 2019, given the speed of major rule changes – with luck ELDs will measure work and rest hours that make at least a little more sense.

What other trends do you see that will affect trucking this year? Comment below.