Next Gen Truck Tech: Autonomous Trucking and Hybrid Technology

After more than 40 years of diesel engines being at the heart of semi-truck engineering, it’s starting to look like truckers worldwide might be getting some serious hardware upgrades. Most of the freight industry leaders in North America often have decades of experience under their belt, which served them well through the 2000s and 2010s when the game was slow to change, but we’ve started to see plenty of those same big players start to sweat with the new decade dawning.

Supply Chain Shifts in 2019

2019 was a year of reckoning for an unbelievable number of trucking companies who’d failed to adapt to changes in the industry and found themselves belly-up. Some numbers from that year suggest that more than 640 trucking companies filed for bankruptcy in the first half of 2019 alone— a rate of failure that other industries didn’t experience in a year that didn’t have any larger market stressors than usual. The most common thread between these companies going under tended to be supply-chain shifts— stories where relatively new on the scene shipping giants like Amazon and Walmart were often called the villains— making waves big enough for these businesses to capsize.

For many of those businesses like New England Motor Freight (which was one of the largest that went down in 2019), their decline in business felt directly connected to once-tantalizing contracts with Amazon, where the profit margin for a large portion of their total shipping runs continued to run thinner and thinner and thinner with time. Another pain-point for these companies was lack of drivers, an effect that often increased how much they had to pay any individual driver to stay on the road, and ate away at their profit margin overall.

So, What’s Stopping Other Freight Companies From Being Edged Out?

The answer is efficiency. Other LDL’s that used to operate much New England Motor Freight are still alive and well in 2020, even with the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 taken into account— so what is it that they’ve done differently?

Nine times out of 10, the companies that have been thriving throughout March, April, May, and June of 2020, are the ones that have the best pencil pushers.

Your Bottom Line: Meet it With Modern Logistics Software, or Something Else?

For a long time, improving your logistics has been the low-hanging fruit for truck companies when it comes to ROI. With so many Fleet Management software and other logistic solutions available for purchase, all of these names you’ve heard about— Omnitracs, Samsara, and fifteen others— have been competing with each other to create the best product possible. And with how changeable supply-chains have become in 2020, skipping out on a tool like this is a surefire way to end up with empty trucks bleeding money. The downside for those who are already getting the most out of their FMS is that the trucking world is still changing rapidly by the day. Therefore, there is a possibility that they won’t be enough for every fleet to find a way back into the green.

The Future Has Lower Overhead: Alternative Vehicles

Your fleet can cost you less very soon, and we’re not just talking about mile-for-mile. Hyliion is one of the most notable companies to watch, with a semi-tractor trailer that features a fully electric drivetrain and natural gas-powered onboard generator. Their next-gen truck will provide more than 1,000 miles of range. The powertrain produces electricity for about 30% lower cost than electricity taken from the grid, which is a huge selling point to fleets, with fuel currently holding its place as the second-highest operating cost for a commercial truck after driver pay and benefits. Hyliion claims that the seven-year cost of ownership is unmatched by any diesel, battery-electric, or hydrogen fuel-cell electric truck currently on the market.

If you’re looking for something for yourself or for your fleet that you can pick up now, there are only a handful of options you’ll find on the road right now— the most notable being compressed natural gas trucks. These have a lower range, hovering closer to the 500-mile range, but their cost per mile is, predictably, phenomenal. So, if you’re an O/O that gets on the road and stays on the road, CNG is an investment that you can make today that could yield great long-term benefits.

Self-Driving Trucks: Good for Owner Operators and Fleet Owners?

Autonomous trucking has been a big worry for truckers in the past couple of years, but some experts say that shouldn’t be the case. The reality where trucks are just as smart and just as safe as a human being in the chair is still a long way away, and depending who you are, that sounds like either great news or terrible news. A different reality, where autonomous trucking still retains a human element is something Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, Founder of Starsky Robotics, says is just around the corner, and it’s something to be excited about.

Seltz-Axmacher describes a model featuring Pre-planned routes where smart trucks do all the dumb stuff (mostly long stretches of highway driving), and then transmit information about what’s coming up— tricky stretches of road where a remote driver could intervene.

This model still needs truckers, but it’s one that keeps them closer to their families and a little bit further away from some of the least desirable parts of the job.

What’s Your Take?

There’s definitely room to be excited about new advancements in the freight industry, and one thing’s for certain— and it’s that trucking isn’t going to stop needing manpower any time soon. Visit Trucker Job USA to see opportunities to enter the freight industry.

Guest post written exclusively for Trucker Job USA by Mission Financial

Author: Mission Financial, Ryan Mouton

Company Bio: Mission Financial Services specializes in providing loans for semi-truck owner-operators and fleet services. Decades of experience in the trucking and transportation industry allows Mission to create valuable, informative content for their readers. Stay up to date with the latest news from Mission Financial on their blog.