Friday, June 29, 2012

The Highway Bill - Is it Re-regulation in Disguise?

For many who have read my postings you know I personally believe there is a quiet re-regulation of the transportation (mostly full truckload) industry going on in the United States.  Interestingly enough, this is mostly being led by the trucking companies themselves both indirectly and directly.  As regulations have increased the profitability of the trucking companies has increased as well.  It is as if they all just decided competing in an unregulated and highly efficient market was just too much to take.  It is easier to publish a unified tariff and move on.

A stark example of this is in the new highway bill.  In an article written in Logistics Week Bill Graves, the ATA President hails this bill for doing the following:

  • Requiring electronic on board recorders for hours of service compliance
  • Establishing a central clearing house for Drug and Alcohol testing
  • Establishment of standards for systems to provide employers notification of moving violations
  • Mandatory testing of new carriers coming into the business around safety (Read: Increase the barrier to entry)
There was a day when any transportation executive would be appalled at the above mainly because it increases regulation, decreases competition and creates barriers to entry to the industry.  This will all result in bad news for shippers as the carriers will use these "new regulations" as an excuse to raise rates.  The savvy shippers will remember who actually put these regulations in place in the first place: The trucking industry. 

One thing the new Highway bill does not do:  Fund infrastructure repairs so our roads and highways become less congested and more conducive to transportation. 

Next up I will deal with how this is being paid for and here is a little hint:  If you think you are getting a defined benefit pension plan, you just contributed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Impact of Mega Trends - Design for Logistics

As transportation rates and capacity go through a major change one trend which is clearly developing is what I have called "Design for Logistics".  This "mega trend" ensures the logisticians are involved in the design of the product at the very early stages of development and the reason for this is mostly cube utilization.

We have known for quite some time a critical way to reduce spend is just to consume less.  Seems very logical to me and really passes for being a truism in our industry.  However, what has not happened until recently (on a large scale) is people thinking about this before the product is actually designed and built.  As we all know, once the tooling is in place to make the product the goal of the manufacturing group is to run the tool to death; at that point a change in design becomes very costly and almost impossible to execute.

The solution therefore is to get the logistician involved on the front end.  Of course, we do not want to build any "Aztecs" here (really ugly products which were made ugly to make manufacturing and logistics more efficient).  First and foremost, the product has to meet customer needs and, in most cases, actually "wow" the customer.  However, once we identify the critical components of the product which create that emotion with the consumer, we then take the rest of it and design the hell out of it for efficiency in logistics. This usually means cube utilization.

I heard a high level executive for a major truck stop firm say his fuelings were down by 15% and he was attributing it to more "stuff in the back of the trucks" and therefore less trucks.  I am not sure he had real data to support it however given my experience I believe he was right.  And this trend will continue.  The logical and ultimate conclusion is to eliminate shipments completely (aka, Nook/Kindle e-books and iTunes stores).  We know not everything can be digitized however things can be made smaller, packed tighter and assembled at the point of use versus at a factory (Think IKEA furniture).

If you have not instituted this process in your company, and transportation costs are meaningful to your business, you should immediately think about this important topic.  It is far more complex than I have written here and there are clearly ways to be successful at this and ways to screw it up however you should start it now.

The EPA May Have Got it Right

For the last 4 - 6 years we have heard many people grumbling about the need to clean up diesel trucks from an environmental  perspective.  All the same arguments heard whenever new goals are set were rolled out:  "It will cost a fortune", "It will never work", "The technology doesn't exist"... etc. etc.  Same comments made by the automotive companies when the initial clean air act was passed and now we hear them again when it comes to Natural Gas. Now, in an article entitled, The Emissions Dividend in Fleet Owner Magazine, we find out the EPA may have been right.  Thank goodness they stuck to their guns.

What is even more fascinating about the data in the article is it seems to suggest now that all these changes may actually end up in reduced costs for the carriers.  Engines are lasting a million miles, drain intervals are being extended  and other operating costs are improving.  Yes, the acquisition costs of the engines may be higher but it appears there is evidence the total cost of ownership (Generally figured by adding: Acquisition costs+ownership cost-residual revenue) may actually be lower.  It is certainly improving and this is verified by a presentation I was at where a very large trucking company confirmed this phenomenon.

As a shipper it has to make you wonder what all this talk is of "increased costs"?  Yes, there are increased acquisition costs but it is TCO I am concerned about.  If TCO is decreasing that is a good thing isn't it.

This reinforces why, as a shipper, you have to understand the costing model of transportation as well or better than anyone in the industry.

Could you imagine what LA would be like from a smog perspective if the EPA had not stuck to its guns all these years?  It would have been a disaster.  Now, it looks like the same success is coming to the actions concerning diesel trucking.  Congratulations EPA... and my future grandchildren thank you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sustainability - Why Not?

I had an interesting revelation today as I drove my hybrid to work. Many people will rationalize why they are not living a sustainable life - leaving a better planet to their heirs than they gained from their parents.  They will go through the "personal business case", they will try to deny the science of the changing planet or, some, will hold onto a belief that it is our God given right to do whatever we want to the planet.

Of course, all of those are what we call excuses and rationalizations.  My observation is many who do not care about sustainability are the exact people who can afford it and are benefited by it.

So, next time you rationalize your unsustainable behavior ask yourself, why not?  Why not take the few extra minutes to recycle?  Why not spend an extra $1K to get a sustainable automobile?  Why not buy local so things don't have to be transported so far.. etc. etc.

The key question for all of us:  Why Not?