While some industry officials admit the auto transport market is slow to change, others are encouraged by recent cooperative efforts and more emphasis on environmentally friendly improvements.
A generation ago, automakers didn't want their vehicles sharing space on the same trailer with another brand. But half-filled trailers or rail cars cost transport companies money and waste fuel. Automakers now recognize the potential savings in filling the trailers, so officials have been discussing collaborative efforts. As Ford's Walter Lowe, a participant in the talks, stated: "We don't compete on the truck. We compete in the showroom."
Officials envision a more cooperative network of transporters that could be based on a hub-and-spoke system similar to some airlines. Such a complex network will be easier to develop thanks to improved GPS and cellular technology. Dispatchers can monitor truck and rail movements more accurately, then communicate with truck drivers in a timely manner for pickup and delivery. GPS and computer modeling are also helping transport companies develop more efficient travel routes that save fuel and improve on-time deliveries.
Industry observers don't foresee any dramatic changes in equipment. New car-carrying ships may get larger but unless highway regulations change, auto-transport trailers aren't likely to grow in size. New designs, however, will be safer for the operators with improved ramp controls and safer footing on top ramps. Next-generation trailers will have more protective measures, such as padding and additional clearance, to reduce the chance of vehicle damage during loading.
Finally, big rigs are getting greener with clean diesel engines, biofuels and improved exhaust treatments. The next-generation of trucks will also include hybrid models with electric-motor assist, similar to the Toyota Prius. An electric motor will be used for acceleration and low-speed driving, then power from the diesel engine will blend in for more efficient cruising [source: ArvinMeritor].
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