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How will buyers get it home?

Aug. 5, 2016
It is a safe bet that as population increases, so does freight demand. A more interesting question might be how the freight will be delivered a decade from now.

Years ago, Fruehauf commissioned Johnny Cash to produce a cassette tape which Fruehauf passed out at the International Trucking Show in part to remind people of the importance of the trucking industry.

Since then, Johnny Cash has died, Fruehauf shut down, the International Trucking Show is no longer held, and cassette tapes have found their resting place in landfills across North America.

One thing hasn’t changed. Cash pointed out on that tape how consumers depend on trucks to deliver almost everything we consume. He then proceeded to fill Fruehauf’s promotional cassette with a bunch of truck driving songs that proved it.

Just as they were in Johnny Cash’s day, trucks continue to be the dominant way to move freight. Two out of every three tons of freight shipped in the United States each year go by truck, according to the American Trucking Associations—more than rail, air, intermodal, barge, and pipeline combined.

ATA predicted last year that freight volumes will grow by almost 29% in the coming decade and that in 2026, freight revenues will reach $1.52 trillion. It is a safe bet that as population increases, so does freight demand. A more interesting question might be how the freight will be delivered a decade from now.

ATA is forecasting that trucks will lose about 4.2 points of freight-hauling market share over the next decade. Most of that loss will be the result of an increase in the amount of goods shipped through pipelines. Intermodal will account for a much smaller portion. The remaining 65% will still get hauled by truck. But what kind? Trailer? Straight truck? Compact van? Pickup? Or something completely different?

Here’s a niche that appears to offer opportunity: the last leg of the trip. While conventional trucks and trailers will remain the mainstay of our freight system, we believe ecommerce is affecting the way goods get from Point A to Point B. We also believe this is opening an opportunity for many of you—trailer manufacturers and dealers, truck body manufacturers, truck equipment distributors—and the customers you serve.

If you like consistent, steady growth, take a look at how ecommerce has performed so far this century. According to Census Bureau figures, ecommerce has grown every year since 1999—including through the Great Recession. And for the first quarter of this year, the Census Bureau estimates that electronic retail sales in the first quarter of 2016 were $92.8 billion—more than the sales for an entire year as recently as 2006.

Ecommerce freight growth has shippers looking for solutions—especially for that final delivery segment. This has spawned a number of people to think “outside the box van.”

Much has been made of Amazon’s interest in using drones to deliver packages, and we have published a couple of stories on the Workhorse delivery truck that sends a drone through its roof to drop off a package at a remote location and then catch up with the truck in time for its next delivery. A niche product? Definitely. But even a miniscule share of the $1.5-trillion freight market could prove worthwhile.

A Danish company recently introduced a different idea for getting packages to the buyer—an electric tricycle. Touted as having the same amount of cargo as a small van (well, maybe by European standards), the Trefor TRIPL has a top speed of 28 mph and runs 60 miles before the battery needs to be recharged. The driver sits above the single rear wheel, and the two front wheels carry the enclosed cargo box.

That may be okay for the little stuff, but what about those online purchases that literally don’t fit the parcel delivery model? A recent Wall Street Journal article decried the problems of towing a truck trailer through narrow residential streets. Truck trailers may be capable of carrying deliveries such as a 238-pound gun cabinet from Gander Mountain. But what about the truck driver who is expected to carry it to the front porch? And if he gets it to the front porch, does he have skill to maneuver a truck trailer out of a neighborhood that consists mostly of cul-de-sacs? Don’t forget, as we look 10 years into the future, that the driver shortage is only expected to get worse.

How can you help?

As Johnny Cash said at the end of his cassette, “Keep on truckin’ with the good folks at Fruehauf.” Decades later, Fruehauf memories are still alive (see story on Page 24). And with creative solutions to an array of customer challenges, we are confident that truckin’ will keep on as the dominant way to get freight home. ♦

About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.