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March 6, 2017 4:00 AM, EST
Editorial: Week Spent Looking to the Future

This Editorial appears in the March 6 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Conference halls from coast to coast were teeming with talk of transportation last week, with no shortage of prognostications from industry leaders about what the future holds.

Navistar CEO Troy Clarke was among them, offering a warning to companies that fail to embrace the coming wave of evolution.

Clarke, speaking March 1 at the annual meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations in Nashville, Tennessee, predicted that the changes will not be “small and incremental” and cautioned that companies that fall behind will have fates similar to those that once built steam engines and horse-drawn buggies.

He predicts that electric trucks could play a significant role in that future. As urban population growth and clean-air regulations coalesce, Clarke expects the demand for zero-emissions transportation in metropolitan areas to increase.

These trucks will also boast greater connectivity, Omnitracs CEO John Graham said. Speaking Feb. 27 at his company’s annual conference in Phoenix, Graham said the Internet of Things and the growing number of sensors in and around the vehicle are creating “a smart environment around the truck,” inclusive of everything from mobile devices, wearable technologies and vehicle telematics.

Futurist Jim Carroll, who also spoke at the event, said trucking is experiencing a “stunning acceleration of innovation” that puts it on par with other industries.

But trucking should not fear this pace of change, ATA President Chris Spear said. He addressed both the TMC and Omnitracs events and, later in the week at another event hosted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said this technological march will help propel trucking.

“It’s a catalyst to making our industry better,” he said at the Omnitracs event. Pointing specifically to automated driving technology, Spear said it eventually could help drivers build new skills and improve their efficiency, but he also believes that widespread adoption is at least 20 to 25 years away.

More near-term, he urged attendees at both the TMC and AASHTO events to implore leaders in Washington to put the nation’s infrastructure at the top of their agenda.

“The trucking industry has really grown tired of watching our roads and bridges deteriorate,” he said.

At TMC on Feb. 28, Spear expressed hope that President Trump will make good on his commitment to fund infrastructure improvements, saying he believes Trump will “do everything he campaigned for.” That would constitute a lot, but with hard work and determination, he has a chance.

The same is true for trucking. There’s a lot on the industry’s plate, as evidenced by the swirl of challenges outlined during just a week’s worth of meetings. But with hard work and determination, the challenges can be overcome.