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Is trucking’s future all that gloomy?

Truck maker to lay off workers at plant. Truck sales to decline. Economy to slow down. Prepare now for the downturn. Fleet shutters operation. Order cancellations high. Spot rates slide. Used-truck prices decline. The sky is falling. The sky is falling.

Lately, it seems like there are lots of headlines predicting gloom and doom for the transportation industry in the coming year. But at the same time, there are headlines predicting that tonnage will rise and that orders are up. It's hard to know what's really going on.

I think the mixed message is nothing new for the trucking industry. There have always been changes, turbulent times, and uncertainties.

For the last several years, however, the trucking industry has enjoyed incredible vehicle production and sales numbers, and the economy has been humming along at a slow but steady growth pace. In fact, we are now in the longest economic expansion in modern times. And we have been experiencing high new-truck production and sales.

It occurs to me that there likely are a fair number of people in the trucking industry today who are newcomers in relative terms. They may have only experienced trucking in the good times and may not be as steeped in its volatility as some veterans. They may not even be aware of the fact that historically, trucking has always been a cyclical industry with some low lows and high highs. Combine that with the environmental and technological changes we have seen/experienced of late and confusion ensues.  I am not being critical here, just stating the reality of the situation.

While I don’t have a crystal ball, the way I see things is that if there is a drop-off in vehicle orders, production, and sales, it likely is not going to be a drop off the cliff but rather somewhat of a return to more normal levels.

Normal in trucking is still pretty darn good, especially if you have fostered great relationships with your customers, your vendors, your employees, and you operate your business following sound business practices.

Trucking has always been a dynamic environment with economic, regulatory, and technological changes happening all the time (although they seem to be coming faster of late). Some of them will directly affect us, and some will affect the world around us including our customers and/or vendors. Given the dynamic nature of trucking, we need to learn to be more dynamic as well, especially in terms of making better use of data to set a course for the near and longer term.

I suggest we all become preactive as opposed to reactive. That means having a plan in place before changes occur so that if and when they happen, we can marshal our resources and forge ahead.

I am trying to keep everything in perspective for 2020. And even if the “dire” predictions are true, the reality is that we still will be putting up some good numbers next year. If the good times we have experienced over much of the last decade have caused you to get a little lax with some of the fundamentals, refocus on them and enjoy “the return to normalcy.”

TAGS: News Drivers
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