We recently reported on some of the areas within the world of trucking that saw major, lasting changes due to the effects of the pandemic, such as the operations within state departments of transportation, road safety reports, and trucker advocacy and appreciation.
Another aspect of the industry that was highly affected–logistics. When companies focusing on logistics were able to implement data-driven technology and boost diversification, they were able to stay afloat much more easily during the COVID-19 era.
“Even if they themselves don’t necessarily have a diverse mix but they can figure out a way to flip [to a different type of load, and they] have the resourcefulness, they’ve been able to fare well,” explained Anne Reinke, President of the Transportation Intermediaries Association. “And some of our customers who can’t necessarily flip the switch have had a really tough time.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, logistics companies suffered large declines in volume, with some segments steadying much more quickly than others. Because much of the nation was adhering to shelter-in-place orders, the segments that thrived were those in alignment with what people needed at home, like grocery stores, Reinke explained.
“You’ve got to be nimble, fleet-footed, and try to broadcast your horizon–to the extent you can,” Reinke said. She also noted that some members of TIA kept in mind the mantra of: “We’ve got to focus on culture, we’ve got to focus on what we can control.”
Communicating with partners and customers was also much more beneficial when logistics companies worked to utilize the capabilities of data-focused tech.
“These companies that have invested in technological solutions to make themselves a difference-maker, to make [themselves] more predictive in terms of their carrier arrival times and their carrier relationships…Those are the ones that recognize how important it is to make those investments,” said Reinke.
Manufacturers comprised another group to make some key adjustments, especially while they were fighting for “essential” status at the start of the virus’ spread. Still, vehicle suppliers soldiered on regardless of any production delays or disruptions.
“HDMA member companies have adjusted to the pandemic with a keen focus on their workforces,” said Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association CEO, David Giroux. “It was critically important that our manufacturing sector was deemed ‘essential’ at both the state and federal levels. The designation allowed production to continue primarily without pause.”
One difficulty for manufacturers was the steeply-declining number of Class 8 vehicle sales, down to 191,900 in 2020 from 276,348 in 2019.
“We are now seeing the fragility of the supply chain as the shortages in the supply of goods from foreign ports and critically-important components like semiconductors and resins continue to cause headwinds,” said Giroux.
Additionally, administration operations and marketing techniques have undergone massive shifts, he added.
“Many trade shows, company events, and customer activities were dispatched to the virtual realm,” Giroux explained. “The return scenario is not yet in clear view.”
Finally, a sector of the transportation world that had to quickly change its operational systems–seaports.
Within a few weeks of the early days of the pandemic, the number of imported containers arriving in the United States from China dropped dramatically as sea shipments were canceled and the U.S.’s industrial capabilities began shutting down more and more.
Still, ports worked through these obstacles, proving their essential nature to the rest of the country, said Chris Connor, CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities.
“Throughout the global pandemic, America’s ports–in fact, ports throughout the Western Hemisphere–never stopped operating,” he said. “Port workers are clearly essential workers, ensuring the delivery of vital goods to grocery stores, businesses, and medical care facilities at major personal risk.”
Although some ports saw nearly a 25% drop in shipment volume during the pandemic’s first few months, most made extraordinarily strong comebacks by the summer following the boom of e-commerce, caused by a majority of Americans shopping online in lieu of heading to stores in-person.
“Countless millions of Americans were able to work from home with all the comforts of home at their disposal because the transportation system–with ports at the nexus–never paused,” Connor explained.