Editorial Photo Tb04 2020

What to do?

April 13, 2020
Monthly Trailer/Body Builders' print editorial

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news—at least no one who was raised right—but sometimes it’s irresponsible to pretend everything’s fine. This, I’m sorry to say, is one of those times.

So before I discuss the challenges the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 present specifically to the readership of Trailer/Body BUILDERS and the transportation equipment industry, I’ll pass along the official word from Endeavor Business Media CEO Chris Ferrell, myself and the rest of the team here:

To our loyal followers and friends,

As we are all feeling the impact of in-person social distancing, we wanted to reach out to you to let you know you can count on our online communities and products to continue providing industry updates and key information you need to continue to do your job.

We provide our content through multiple social channels and websites, along with digital products such as webinars, whitepapers and news coverage, all with the intent of helping to keep you informed of the global impact of today’s evolving business environment.   

We want you and your families to stay safe and healthy. As a community, we will make it through these turbulent times.

As this issue of Trailer/Body BUILDERS goes to press, the impact of the disease and the various responses to it are just hitting home, and hitting hard in the US. Beyond the running tally of tests, infections, and deaths, “social distancing”—a term hardly heard of a month ago—is the norm:  Schools are closed across the country; gatherings of any sort are officially discouraged, and in a growing number of communities they’re being banned; in the San Francisco Bay Area, a “shelter in place” order has been issued.

Now I’m too old (technically in an at-risk group) and too superstitious even to play devil’s advocate and argue that the cure is worse than the disease, but the cure is going to hurt. (Great Britain quickly backed away from a potential policy of letting the disease run its course as quickly as possible, rather than the “flattening the curve” approach that aims for a slow and steady spread that won’t overwhelm the healthcare system—as it has recently, tragically,  in Italy.) 

Still, these precautions have immediately threatened businesses that rely on people getting out and about. 

For example, every time I go to a meeting in Las Vegas I’m amazed at the logistics required to transport, house, feed, and entertain more than 40 million visitors a year. Those visitors spend $35 billion or so, and that revenue supports nearly a quarter-million jobs in the tourism sector. The Strip is now closed. That’s a lot of planes, shuttle buses, and food service trucks and trailers that are almost empty or being parked; and a lot of drivers and fleet maintenance workers with nothing to do—except go home to spouses who are hotel clerks and blackjack dealers and try to help the kids keep up with their at-home schooling. And that’s a lot of people with bills to pay but no income. And that’s just in one community.

In terms of industries, as I write this Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler have announced they’re closing US factories through the end of month—that’s 25 final assembly facilities and 15,000 union workers. The UAW asked for the shutdown, though, but their doing so also means a lot of workers at automotive industry suppliers might not have jobs to go back to next month—or whenever.

And very close to home, this month’s Mid-America Trucking Show and April’s Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association Annual Convention have been cancelled. Absolutely prudent, but painful.

“Still trying to wrap my head around it,” Toby Young, whose family has run MATS for 50 years, told me. And that pretty much says what we’re all feeling.

At this point, the experts (epidemiologists and economists) agree that the COVID-19 situation and its fallout are going to get worse before they get better—but they will get better. Again, as I write this, China just reported the first day with no new infections since the outbreak began, and business there is returning to normal.

Bottom line: Complaining “why me?” solves nothing. It’s time to follow the lead of Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk, and to reject the idea of “no-win scenarios.”

Look for next month’s TBB to see just how one industry supplier faced a community disaster and managed to pull through. We’ll also have an analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the global supply chain, and what North American manufacturers can expect. Beyond that, we’re open to suggestions—and still open for business.