Readying for the Future

Management consultant Peter F. Drucker once said: "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window."

Despite the difficulty, having some insight into what the future may hold is important. Along with understanding past and present activity, businesses need to anticipate the future to avoid being blindsided by seemingly hidden events, as well as to prepare for any possible major changes that will affect their strategies for success.

As part of this year's Heavy Duty Dialogue, the annual business conference of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA), one session that did some crystal-balling into trucking's next 10 years. It provided some insightful information on impacts to vehicle maintenance and repair.

One trend predicted to increase is the use of mobile resource management (MRM). According to Clement Driscoll of consulting firm C.J. Driscoll, more and more fleets of all sizes will adopt MRM as features and capabilities of this technology expand and costs for it decreases.

Not only does MRM provide significant financial benefits from reducing fleet operating costs, it also provides a gateway to the management of commercial vehicles and their drivers. Talk about potential.

Currently, in the U.S. truckload segment, more than 40 percent of trucks are equipped with a mobile resource management system, Driscoll reported. Some 25 to 30 percent of private fleets and about 20 percent of trailer fleets have MRM.

He anticipates that installed solutions will continue to be more widely used by large trucking fleets, while small fleets and those with smaller operational areas will favor handheld solutions, such as cell phones or rugged handheld computers.

Moreover, Driscoll believes MRM solutions will become standard with J1708 - the industry standard used for serial communications between ECUs on a heavy duty vehicle and also between a computer and the vehicle, and J1939 - the vehicle bus standard used for communication and diagnostics among vehicle components.

MRM solutions, he said, will be used for increased monitoring of vehicle sensors for security, safety and maintenance applications; better displays and driver interfaces to reduce driver distractions; dynamic routing based on real-time traffic and weather road conditions; increased fuel performance; and emissions monitoring.

In his presentation, Sandeep Kar of business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan said there will be large growth in the global market of light and medium duty trucks with new powertrain technologies, especially hybrids. These vehicles will provide many benefits, including fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

He noted an increasing demand for hybrids. In 2008, only about 600 Class 6 to 8 hybrid trucks were produced in North America. By 2015, that number is expected to grow to 39,400, accounting for about 15 percent of production.

Electric powertrains are most attractive for lighter duty trucks, said Kar, but a lack of recharging infrastructure is hampering acceptance. He predicted electric trucks across all classes should be about 19,000 this year, up from about 200 last year.

Safety technologies will become more important over the next decade, according to Kar, and driver health, wellness and well-being will become big differentiators in vehicles, as the truck cabin becomes more of a workplace and mobile office.

Further, he said Frost & Sullivan expects a movement to toward higher gross vehicle weight ratings for trucks; a shrinking engine footprint; more vertical integrations among vehicle manufacturers; and expanded incorporation of electronics into all types of vehicles.

With the greater focus on the environment, environmental concerns will continue to shape the truck industry, said Dennis Slagle, who heads North American Trucks, the Volvo Group business area that operates Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks North America.

The objective, he said, will be to find new and innovative ways to have trucks be more productive. Using fewer trucks to move the same amount of freight reduces fuel consumption, pollution and traffic congestion.

This will be achieved in part with longer combination vehicles, heavier gross vehicle weights, different types of trailers and vehicle combinations and packaging that allows more goods to be shipped per pallet and truck, anticipates Slagle.

No matter how good the crystal ball, no one can be certain about the future. I suggest heeding the words of two historic figures: Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Abraham Lincoln said: "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Napoleon Bonaparte said: "Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in."

I welcome your thoughts and comments.