Global Transport Leaders Laud Innovation, Fear Unrest

November 05, 2018 by Chris O'Brien, @obrien

The global transportation industry is experiencing massive upheaval that has left executives juggling a mixture of forces that are alternately cause for alarm and hope, according to a new transport industry report.

The picture of this critical logistics industry grappling with accelerated change emerged in a new report by IRU, the organization formerly known as the International Transportation Road Union. The industry association released the report, “The future of road transport,” on the eve of its first World Congress in Oman this week.

IRU officials interviewed executives at 450 transport companies in Europe, the Gulf states and Asia. Those contrasting sentiments were captured by the responses to two major survey questions.

Geopolitical uncertainty was cited by 57 percent of the respondents as their chief concern. But 76 percent expect autonomous trucks to become commonplace in the next decade, a development that would address their concerns about cost, safety, efficiency and the environment.

Umberto de Pretto, IRU secretary general (Photo: IRU)

“The global transport system touches the lives of each of the planet’s 7 billion people, from the food we eat to the consumer goods we buy,” said Umberto de Pretto, IRU’s secretary general, in a statement. “So it’s perhaps not surprising that many of the issues facing society today are also considered by transport companies to be their biggest challenges. These include some of the main themes that dominate the international agenda, including geopolitics, trade and the environment.”

The congress and report come as the business of hauling goods over roads around the world is poised for explosive growth. According to the IRU, long-haul trucks are projected to be carrying 51,000 tonne kilometers by 2050, up from 20,000 tonne kilometers hauled in 2015. The growth will be driven in markets such as China and India, while markets such as Europe have seen growth slow, the report said.

With these challenges in mind, the IRU said it wanted to get a better grasp on the state of the industry.

On the issue of macroeconomic trends, the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is seen as having huge potential to disrupt the flow of goods around the world. Just over half of the executives surveyed also fear a recession is just over the horizon.

While technology may counterbalance some of these issues, there remains plenty of concern over roadblocks that could slow adoption of new innovations. Cost and lack of expertise were seen as the two top barriers, the report found. In addition, a wide range of legacy systems still in use across a rather conservative industry means that many companies are not in a position to make the leap into a more connected or autonomous future.

At the upcoming congress, the IRU plans to call for greater urgency and investment in digitizing the industry so players can be ready to leverage new technologies. That includes pushing for new legislation and regulations around the world to encourage and support this transition.

“For technology to take hold, and for the industry to truly benefit from it, we must ensure we have the foundations in place,” de Pretto said in his statement. “This means first getting the basics right, such as full transitioning to digital documentation, improving traceability, security and efficiency. We must work harder to join the dots between operators, service providers, manufacturers and governments to nurture a supportive environment for innovation and digitization.”

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