The effects of COVID-19 on businesses are far-reaching and disruptive. According to the Institute for Supply Management, nearly 75% of companies are experiencing supply chain disturbances. The auto transport industry is no exception. As the coronavirus outbreak is ravaging and the uncertainty is growing, finding accurate, up-to-date informational resources is more paramount than ever. This article presents basic facts and guidance for car shipping drivers and consumers during the pandemic.
The Impact of the Virus Outbreak
The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) listed transportation as an essential sector in its advisory guidance. In addition, roads remain open, meaning that vehicle hauling companies and drivers can continue working while a majority of employees in other industries are ordered to work from home. As the outbreak and the derived measures might have stimulated growth for some sections of logistical and transportation fields, especially those shipping food and medical supplies, the overall demand for shipping companies has been on a descent, despite the drastic plummet of oil prices. Transport networks that were extensive and ubiquitous before have now been severely restricted or banned altogether. Big events such as concerts, conferences, sports events, among many others, have been postponed or canceled.
When it comes to the car shipping industry, the situation looks more precarious. That is because, while consumer events have been called off, a large number of Americans have been moving and migrating to different places for the duration of quarantine and, possibly, for longer.
The Economic Outlook for Shipping Carriers
Though it is still early to quantify the impact, carriers hauling vehicles have also felt the consequences of the outbreak. Not all of them are negative, however.
Due to college campus closures across the country, there has been a spike in university student auto shipping. Students have been forced to vacate and leave their dorms and many are looking for options to transport their cars to their homes while they catch last-minute flights. Another demographic – the retirees – has been actively moving residences. A large percentage of seniors relocate for the summer months every year, especially those permanently residing in Florida. This annual migration, also known as the snowbird season, began early this year due to the outbreak. Being at a much higher risk of complications from coronavirus, the elderly are more prone to choose ground traveling and shipping.
With states declaring stay-at-home orders and temporary closures of non-essential businesses, millions of Americans are forced to work from home. Such circumstances have propelled many, especially urbanites, to flee crowded cities, a trend that may remain even after the pandemic’s end. Cheaper costs and bigger living spaces combined with reduced risks of contracting the disease and the suspended requirement to physically attend offices and schools have accelerated the shift from urban to suburban. According to data from Harris Poll, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, nearly 40% of city dwellers are considering relocation to less densely populated areas. While a small but significant number have already found temporary homes in more rural locales of the country, many city residents are contemplating permanent moves. These migration trends may present a promising opportunity for shipping carriers that may extend into the future.
It is difficult to predict long-term consequences and post-quarantine trends. Despite some aforementioned spikes in demand, experts advise that the overall number of vehicles being shipped will stay subdued. As automotive factories are shutting down and car sales are plunging, specialized car carriers are already reeling. Combined with the delayed government response and the current economic crisis, car hauling companies should brace themselves for a prolonged decline that may veer into 2021.
Domestic and International Shipping
Transportation of automobiles is still permitted and possible, though, as the outbreak has upended normal business operations, slightly more complicated and delayed than usual. Nevertheless, vehicle hauling carriers are adapting. For example, pick-ups and drop-offs now require drivers and customers to keep six feet apart to prevent the spread of the disease. Due to decreased supplies of equipment, assistance, and basics such as food on the road these days, shipping companies have been planning routes more meticulously: checking every stop and looking up road closures, calling in advance if necessary. On the bright side, lack of traffic on major highways all around the country has reduced travel times, meaning that customers can now receive their vehicles within much shorter time-frames.
U.S. residents may receive cars from abroad, even from highly affected places such as China and Italy. Ports are open for overseas shipments, though they are experiencing a significant slowdown. This is partially because—for ships arriving from a number of hard-hit countries—mariners and crew are not allowed to leave vessels as a precautionary measure to decrease person-to-person transmission. Shipping companies, as well as customers, are strongly advised to wipe surfaces with disinfecting solutions. They are also advised to wear masks and disposable gloves and wash hands for at least 20 seconds afterward.
Safety of Drivers
Since the transportation sector has been deemed essential, many drivers continue to be on the road. Unless they fall into the high-risk category, workers in the auto transport industry are not at greater risk of catching the virus than other members of the general public, thanks to the isolated nature of truck driving.
Car shipping carriers are advised to practice social distancing and other precautionary measures outlined by the World Health Organization, which include washing hands thoroughly and frequently, wearing masks, and disinfecting surfaces.
Transportation business owners and employers are also recommended to take the following steps to reduce the risks of catching and spreading COVID-19:
- Encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Should an employee show or develop any symptoms at work, send them home without delay.
- Hold off sending employees at a higher risk of developing complications to long-distance deliveries.
- Provide tissues, sanitizers, soap, masks, disposable wipes, and gloves to employees.
- Instruct all employees to wash or sanitize their hands frequently.
- Regularly disinfect all surfaces.
- Look into and implement no-contact pick-ups and hand-offs, if possible.
Safety of Customers
While customers can receive their cars in just the same way as before, they, too, are advised to follow the necessary steps to protect themselves and those around them. This includes wiping all exterior surfaces with disinfectants upon car collection. It is also worth cleaning interior surfaces that might have been touched. Wearing the necessary protective gear such as masks and disposable gloves is highly recommended. Clients are discouraged to touch eyes, mouth, and nose while cleaning their vehicles and should dispose of all used tissues and wipes.
Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 related disruptions extended to nearly all areas of life and businesses: schools, offices, churches, bars and restaurants, and other public spaces. Terms like “social distancing” and “shelter in place” have become a part of daily life. As the entire world feels paused, everyone is bracing for what lies ahead.
This is an opportune time to transport cars as quotes are the lowest since the 2008 economic recession. Customers looking to ship vehicles from one part of the country to the other will be able to find many companies willing to take on the job.
Though the economic outlook at the moment is looking rather tough and the number of auto transports is expected to stay low, long-term impacts are still difficult to calculate. Post-virus life may call for great shifts and changes, including, among others, migration and predominance of online vehicle deliveries. To look at it from a more optimistic angle, this might be an opportunity for trucking companies to adapt to the changing markets and come out stronger. Resilience leads to creativity and reinvention and, quite possibly, a more advanced and seamless service will be awaiting customers on the other end. Structural changes called upon the industry can lead to long-term improvements. Many lessons we are being forced to learn today may be the harbingers of future strengths gained.
Written By:Joe Webster
Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing.
After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood.
With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.