Editorial: The ‘Next Big Thing’?

Did the Next Big Thing in trucking recently drive across a stage in California?

That’s one of the questions industry observers were asking after the Nov. 16 introduction of Tesla’s long-awaited battery-powered Class 8 tractor, an event that had the feel more of a celebrity appearance than a product introduction. That’s because some in the crowd — Tesla investors, perhaps — were cheering as company co-founder Elon Musk heralded all of the benefits he believes his all-electric Tesla Semi will have over diesel-powered tractors. The people were arguably — in their minds, at least — cheering the Next Big Thing.

TESLA SEMI: Elon Musk shows off the company's Class 8

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To be sure, the arrival of the Tesla Semi is newsworthy and could be a harbinger of things to come for motor carriers. But let’s remember that electric power isn’t the only technology that holds promise for the future.

Perhaps there is more than one Next Big Thing.

It wasn’t that long ago that the industry hung this banner on natural gas, with its promise of abundant domestic supply and inexpensive prices. At a moment when diesel prices were soaring and the country was mired in a financial malaise, it was appropriate to look with hope toward a ready-made solution.

But here’s the thing: the promised benefits of natural gas still hold true. NG is still readily available, it’s still inexpensive and, for certain applications, it still makes sense.

This despite the fact that diesel prices have remained at reasonable levels for a while now.

And despite the abundance of affordable diesel, efforts are still underway to find ways to conserve it.

For example, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s Run on Less program produced an average of 10.1 miles-per-gallon across seven trucks. They accomplished this through a combination of driver training and equipment, but over the course of 17 days, demonstrated that the Next Big Thing could simply be just maximizing what’s already available.

Or, maybe the Next Big Thing is keeping an open mind about everything and settling on the solutions that work best for a particular operation. Among the options mentioned above and others not listed, there are benefits and drawbacks. But the common thread is that they’re available — or soon will be.

Trucking has more choice than it has in years, and we believe that is good for the industry.