The future for the automotive shipping industry

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The past few years and the foreseeable future for the automotive shipping industry, including both domestic and international, will likely be a tumultuous few years. The shipping industry is often overlooked by most consumers who only consider and witness the final product before them. But shipping, and specifically automotive shipping, is a massive operation that is a vital aspect of the economy of the United States and the world. Most of the domestic shipping in the U.S. is performed through trucking. Trucking allows for easy access to a job, provides work for many, and provides a key network of support for companies who ship their products.

 However, the trucking industry as of late has run into some problems including an aging workforce, difficulty in attracting new workers, and technology threats, namely artificial intelligence. I believe that in only a few short years, all automobiles will have the ability to self-drive and I am surprised that trucks on the highway already do not have this capability. In short, many, including myself, see the threat of autonomy as a looming force over the future of the trucking industry. Relating to specifically automotive shipping, there is also the constant changing dynamics of globalization and the tariffs on goods between countries. The recent trade war between the United States and China has mostly cooled off for now but is not subject to remain that way. 

Finally, the advent of electric vehicles will likely bring about a few minor changes to the automotive shipping industry relating to the extra safety needed to meet regulations for transporting large quantities of potentially explosive batteries. With the rise of e-commerce, trucking has grown to account for almost two-thirds of all products shipped each year according to CNBC. This massive industry accounts for many billions of dollars in revenue each year and employed nearly a million drivers in 2018 according to the U.S. Board of Labor Statistics. However as mentioned above, several factors are clouding the future for trucking in the United States including first and foremost autonomy, an aging workforce, and a stressful and unappealing career for many young people. Because of the latter two issues, self-driving trucks for highway usage will likely be coming to the market soon. Working long days and long nights with a sedentary lifestyle, doing pretty much the same, monotonous task every day is likely to take a toll on many drivers. Also, truckers are typically on the road for most of the year forgoing time with family, friends, and a home life. This difficult lifestyle paired with the limitations of a human behind the wheel in terms of driving accuracy and energy has opened the door to autonomy in the trucking industry.

 Self-driving trucks would alleviate many of the current problems in the industry and would be much more profitable for the companies in charge. But, like other industries at high risk of autonomy, it would leave a massive amount of people unemployed. Supporters of large-scale autonomy are quick to say new jobs will be created as autonomy replaces old jobs. But even after the worker retraining many will need to endure, this will still likely leave a significant portion of people without a job and cause a massive disruption in the workforce. An additional factor blurring the future of the automotive shipping industry is the globalized economy and specifically how reliant companies are on multiple entities to deliver a final product. The trade war between the United States and China exposed how even if the final assembly of a product was in one country, that company may have shipped parts or materials in from another country and as a result, the tariffs and price increase were passed along to the consumer in the home country.

 Despite the trade war cooling off, for now, the recent charade displayed how wide a range of impact tariffs can have. With more automotive companies looking internationally than ever before, both for markets and assembly, relations between nations and the economic sanctions one may impose on another are looming larger than ever for many industries, including automotive shipping. Finally, the advent of electric vehicles is sure to alter at least a few components of the automotive shipping industry. At present, most electric vehicles, including Tesla vehicles utilize a lithium-ion battery. This is the same type of battery in your cell phone, computer, and many other devices. As you may recall from the Samsung battery debacle of 2017, lithium-ion batteries are a bit dangerous and capable of exploding. When scaling the battery to the size needed to power an automobile, this could be significantly worse, especially if there are gasoline-powered cars nearby in traffic. Now Tesla batteries undergo a rigorous process to make sure they are meeting safety regulations, but the real world is often an unpredictable place.

 Much research and money are currently being invested in battery technology, so the range and safety are likely to improve. Despite this, shipping for electric vehicles needs to be able to maintain greater standards of safety regulation with a special emphasis on the battery. This means the protection of the battery and regulating storage temperatures. The three factors mentioned above are only a few of the major causes I see that currently have and will continue to influence the automotive shipping industry. However, both electric vehicle battery safety measures and the globalized economy will affect more of the current state of the industry while autonomy has a much greater potential to drastically change the landscape.

 Autonomy is a problem that the economy, industry, and countless people will be affected by in the upcoming years and will need to have a planned implementation. As technology continues to improve, the capitalist principle of the free market will soon bring massive scale autonomy into the workforce. I am not entirely sure how this issue will be dealt with, potentially with a universal basic income as suggested by Andrew Yang, but both the negatives and positives of the situation will need to be carefully considered. We are once again at the point in our development as a species where just because we have a brand new, uber-powerful technology, it doesn’t exactly mean we should use it.

Submitted by Joseph Kawiecki  10/03/2020

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