As 2014 draws to a close, everyone in trucking is looking forward to the new year, wondering what 2015 will bring to the industry. This year as every year, CK Commercial Vehicle Research has surveyed the managers of fleets big and small in order to report on equipment changes between this year and last, and in order to look forward to what companies plan to purchase next year. And according to their results, it’s all going to be about the driver shortage.
The industry-wide shortage of qualified drivers limits the number of trucks each company can run and therefore limits or shapes business development and expansion, which in turn influences what kinds of equipment each business buys. Not surprisingly, most fleets plan to buy very little.
The driver shortage is not new. Recent purchasing trends that may be related to the shortage include increased adoption of lighter, more fuel-efficient 13-liter engines and more trailers with tire-pressure monitoring systems. It seems as though fleets are focusing the purchases they do make on upgrades, not expansion. Next year will see lots of orders for vehicles with adaptive cruise control and various added driver comforts as companies strive to compete for the limited number of drivers out there.
One especially striking trend from last year is the jump in the trailer-to-tractor ratio. Apparently, buying more trailers is one way to expand even when the number of drivers—and hence the number of tractors in service—must remain roughly constant. Yet planned orders for trailers for next year are down. It is possible this form of expansion is about played out.
Industry leaders also specifically cited the shortage as their primary concern in the survey. Other concerns include various new regulations, with their attendant costs and initial difficulties.
Besides adjusting their buying habits, fleet managers are responding to the ongoing driver shortage with new recruitment efforts, including efforts aimed at recruiting more women. While trucking has had its women drivers for a long time, the industry still has a reputation as a boys’ club and women are still relatively rare. By giving employers an incentive to reach out to a new pool of potential talent, the current shortage has the potential to change the face of trucking dramatically.
For men or women, the labor shortage could make this a good year to be a driver, even as it complicates fleet management. At the same time, increasingly sophisticated telematics software—plus new rules for rating driver performance—is making it easier for managers to identify top employees. Those drivers who can really bring exceptional skill to their work should be able to look forward to a very good 2015. Fleet managers who can reward the best drivers’ loyalty should also have a very good year.