Editorial: Fascinating Future, Difficult Present

This Editorial appears in the Sept. 26 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

In putting this issue together, we didn’t know whether to oooh and ahhh like children watching a Harry Potter movie or reach for antacids like baby boomers with heartburn. Engineers are weaving computer capability into vehicles in a way that seems like wizardry coming soon, while this year’s freight market continues to offer disappointment with no signs of yielding.

The wizardry started in Hanover, Germany, at the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show where Daimler Trucks showed off its urban eTruck concept vehicle.

“In the coming 10 years, more will change in our vehicles than in the past 120 years,” Daimler Trucks head Wolfgang Bernhard told the crowd. The changes in vehicles are important, he said, because people are demanding more from trucks.

Volkswagen, now aligned with Navistar International, said it soon will offer connected trucks that will be safer and more fuel-efficient.

Here in the United States, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx offered guidelines for testing and deploying highly automated vehicles, including driverless vehicles. Foxx said the Obama administration thinks technology can improve highway safety.

We have seen autonomous driver assistance in practice for trucks and are firmly convinced it has much to offer now and are eager to see what manufacturers can add.

As for driverless cars, we’re happy to look at test results as they are published. However, before anything is codified into law or a formal regulation, we insist there should be time for public comment from trucking and other transportation participants.

As for current business conditions, truck tonnage did jump up by 5.9% in August, and that’s usually a great sign. But in this case, it seems more like a statistical sleight of hand. Established seasonal shipping patterns in trucking appear to be breaking down, making comparisons difficult.

While U.S. ocean ports reported a generally strong August, intermodal executives meeting in Houston heard that the steady growth they have long enjoyed might soon be coming to an end, as some analysts at an industry conference warned of a recession starting next year that could be made worse by difficult regulations.

We’re not sold on the recession talk yet. A recent Census Bureau report on wages and incomes showed some much welcome increases. Prosperous Americans buy goods that come on trucks.

However, we would also welcome some unambiguous economic growth to help us get to all of those cool new trucks coming soon.


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