Editorial: Old Man Winter Can’t Stop Freight

With quarterly earnings underway, we’re getting a look at how the industry fared during the first three months of 2019, a year which some have predicted could mark the beginning of a cooldown from last year’s red-hot freight market. Turns out the start of this year for freight haulers wasn’t marked so much by a cooldown as it was cold and snowy weather.

Among motor carriers that have reported so far, the financial results look good overall. Revenue and profits improved for many, but struggles tied to a tough winter hurt results for others.

The latest monthly truck tonnage report from American Trucking Associations bears this out, as ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said tonnage was “negatively impacted” by winter storms across the United States. The good news is that the index rose last month on a year-over-year basis. The bad news is that it declined from February.

In the days and weeks to come, we’ll have more earnings reports to cover, so the last word on how Old Man Winter affected freight haulers in the first quarter of the year likely has not been written.

Nor has the last word been written on what the future holds for the trucks that carry that freight; more specifically, what kinds of engines will power them.

At an industry conference last week, the head of the nation’s biggest truck manufacturer proclaimed that the end of the diesel engine is nigh, and that electric power will supplant it as the motive power of choice for trucking. Granted, this is a company that has recently showcased an electric-powered Class 8 vehicle, and also recently struck a deal with a technology developer to help advance its plans for electric-powered trucks. But many in trucking still believe in diesel power, and that it will be around the industry — and under the hoods of trucks — for many years to come.

To hear the visible leader of an original equipment manufacturer make such a bold proclamation caught our attention. To be sure, a lot is happening with alternative power sources, electric in particular. And if the advent of smartphones has taught us anything, it’s that the march of technological advancement is typically faster than many expect. That said, skeptics might say that it will be a cold day in, say, Fiji, before the trucking industry walks away completely from diesel. And, yes, it likely will be a long while. But keep a blanket handy, just in case.