Trucking Industry Trends to Watch for in 2021 and Beyond

December 14, 2020

Future of the Trucking Industry

With the unwavering momentum of a big rig rolling down the highway right on schedule, the trucking industry looks strong heading into the new year.

After a year that felt like a tire-destroying pothole for some industries, trucking has cruised past minor speedbumps thanks to its dedicated workforce and the continued demand for freight industry services.

Trucking will be hitting the proverbial and literal road with haste in 2021, heading on what some believe to be a multi-year upswing.

No matter the state of traffic congestion, public health, or the global economy, you can count on the trucking industry to be ready for the new year. Here are some trucking trends we can expect to see.

The Driver Shortage Continues, Bringing Ups and Downs

One reason trucking careers are always a viable option is because trucking continues to have more jobs than drivers.

While data wasn’t collected on job growth and loss in 2020 for obvious reasons, the shortage from 2018 and 2019 is poised to continue. The reason? There are a few theories. While steady consumer spending spurs continued shipping demand, trucking companies seem to have a staffing problem.

Whether they’re falling short in proper prospecting, effective recruiting, or driver retention, the shortage continues and brings with it positives and negatives.

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The main downside is less capacity – which could drive up shipping rates and wait times. However, this could also incentivize trucking companies to get creative in their search to find and keep talent. Drivers may be able to push for better pay and more flexibility in their schedules.

Many drivers choose truck driving because it’s less of a job, and more of a career – maybe more specifically, it’s a lifestyle. Given trucking is an escape from the monotony of the office desk or the exhaustion of the construction worksite, it already has a lot going for it.

Trucking’s Techs of Choice Will Include AI, the Blockchain, and More

Like the skilled driver who knows an alternate route or can add an extra stop without losing any time, the trucking industry is adaptable. A big part of adapting to today’s challenges is leveraging technology.

Artificial intelligence (AI) could enhance the industry’s natural flexibility, making it far off from the job killer many hyped it to be. Instead, it could power applications using data from drivers’ journeys to improve fuel economy, boost rig safety, avoid congestion, save money, and lower wait times.

Trucks themselves are getting smarter. Modern rigs can now monitor speed, grade, and weight to shift at appropriate times, reduce friction, and improve performance on familiar routes. This makes the industry more welcoming to drivers of all skill levels and shippers in more locations.

The freight industry features many players – carriers, shippers, brokers, and more. Sometimes it’s hard to stay connected.

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Sometimes there are people who need capacity, and drivers who have it, but they have trouble coming together. Other times, one slow or unreliable link in a supply chain can leave the rest held up and thrown off schedule.

The blockchain provides the distributed technology necessary to give the trucking industry a new sense of synergy. It could allow freight industry players to enter and receive real-time information on a single, seamless network not dependent on a central authority.

Even on a limited regional scale, this could dramatically increase efficiency and cut down on wasted time, money, and fuel.

A Continued Journey Toward Greater Sustainability

Speaking of fuel, trucking continues to make mile-wide strides toward a more sustainable industry.

The sustainability movement provides a double benefit for trucking companies. Preserving the environment is the obvious plus, but it’s also a helpful way to reduce fuel costs.

Trucking is a very energy-hungry industry. While cleaner options like natural gasses are becoming more common, don’t expect trucking companies to ditch diesel any time soon and be able to keep the products we need moving.

However, 2021 may be the year of the poly-fuel approach. The beauty of the trucking industry’s diverse equipment setup and dispersed network of operators means different companies and areas can try different approaches and see which works best.

A variety of other factors can impact sustainability, ranging from driving habits to logistics planning for eliminating empty miles. Look for the pursuit of profits and the search for sustainability to continue riding side by side in the coming year.

Make Way for the Emergence of Electric Trucks

It’s impossible to talk about sustainability in the trucking industry without mentioning that electric trucks are gaining popularity by the day.

Some companies, like Amazon, were already going electric last year. However, powering a delivery van is not the same task as powering a commercial truck.

Luckily, automotive and tech giants are on the job. With models coming from names like Volvo and Tesla, it’s safe to say that more trucking companies will begin embracing electric alternatives in greater numbers throughout 2021.

As for how this will factor into the poly-fuel approach, we could see companies split their fleets between electric and diesel. This would provide a valuable opportunity to gather data for side-by-side comparisons on long-term performance, maintenance requirements, and other key metrics.

E-Commerce Could Bring Disruption and Opportunities

When typically busy stores closed up and once bustling sidewalks sat eerily empty, many worried about the state of the economy as a whole.

However, consumer spending has been on its way upwards, enjoying a few optimistic moments in the quest to reach pre-shutdown levels. Luckily, spending habits and the shipping needs they create don’t always require in-person contact.

While retail sales have grown in select sectors at an annual rate of about 1-5% over the past several years, e-commerce sales have leaped up to the tune of 13-16%.

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E-commerce business has meant shorter hauls in greater numbers, with an increased focus on delivery times. While it bodes well for drivers who prefer to avoid long trips, it’s presenting some challenges to carriers.

For one, returns are much more common with e-commerce, so the logistics side of the freight industry must calculate how to account for these shipping needs. Companies must also adjust to the stringent requirements of new retail customers who look to outsource their shipping needs as they delve deeper into e-commerce.

We’ll Continue Bringing Trucking Industry Insights Throughout 2021

Trucks aren’t stopping and neither are we. In 2021, expect us to continue bringing insights about trucking and how it’s adapting to an ever-changing world.

The next year will see a continued need for drivers, which could push carriers to give them the conditions they need to come aboard. New technologies will make trucking safer and more efficient, while a poly-fuel approach will continue reducing its carbon footprint. Finally, e-commerce voices will continue calling on the industry, and the industry will be ready to answer.

Be safe, enjoy the holiday season, and wrap up 2020 by considering partnering with a trucking specialist for the exciting year to come.

Are you a current or aspiring driver looking for a job in the trucking industry? Are you a shipper who wants a company with drivers you can build a professional relationship with for long-term benefits? Hermes combines a competitive benefits package with cutting-edge equipment to deliver top industry freight solutions for shippers and drivers alike. Visit our website to reach out today.

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