Sluggish economy, dysfunctional government, poor consumer confidence are largest challenges facing US trucking industry, says ATA President, CEO Bill Graves in annual address

Cindy Allen

Cindy Allen

Oct 9, 2012 – American Trucking Associations

LAS VEGAS , October 9, 2012 (press release) – In his annual "State of the Industry" Address, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said the trucking industry was at a crossroads, facing a myriad of challenges and opportunities.

Graves spoke here today at the opening general session of ATA's annual Management Conference & Exhibition.

"I honestly do believe that anyone who is operating in the trucking industry is at a crossroads – in fact you're facing an entire series of crossroads – each one a decision point sending you in directions that will ultimately determine success or failure, profitability or loss, growth or stagnation," Graves said in his address.

In identifying trucking's challenges, Graves pointed his finger squarely at Washington.

"Three of our nation's biggest problems are the sluggish economy, a very dysfunctional federal government and the people of this nation who lack confidence that the economy will get better and that our government as its currently assembled in Washington isn't capable of getting the job done," he said.

In looking at Washington's challenges for trucking, Graves pointed to CSA, the federal government's safety monitoring program as a prime example.

"We still believe that CSA is fundamentally the program that will make travel on the nation's highways safer," Graves said. "But it must be implemented and managed in such a way as to instill confidence with the industry that our 'buy in' to the program will make our companies stronger and not be penalized by inaccurate data or misrepresentation by the shipping community or the media."

Graves also pointed to the administration's pursuit of a new hours-of-service rule as another example of Washington providing a challenge to the trucking industry.

"The rule was working just fine," he said, "and second I have no doubt that the changes were the result of political pressures brought to bear from the White House and not the result of FMCSA professionals believing that further change was necessary or could be justified."

Despite those challenges, and others like the driver shortage, the weak economic recovery, insufficient federal support for infrastructure and the rise in tolling and rising fuel prices, Graves said trucking was still well-positioned for the future.

"The essentiality of the industry and the demand for freight movement by truck – a growing demand for freight movement by truck – is unquestioned," Graves said. "The long-term macro outlook for trucking has never been better, but the near-term micro view continues to be very challenging."

To overcome those challenges, as trucking sits at the crossroads, Graves said it was important for companies to adapt and change.

"Those unwilling to embrace change will not survive. As unpleasant as that option may be, it's simply a truth that has always confronted the industry," he said. "Any of you who know the history of de-regulation, know that the folks who embraced the changing operational landscape of the trucking were at the vanguard of the industry we know today."

Graves' speech marked the 10th anniversary of his hiring as ATA president, an occasion he noted by pointing out that many of the trucking headlines from the industry's leading publication Transport Topics, would not be out of place today.

"Surely there isn't any other industry where 'the more things change – the more they stay the same,' is actually true," he said. "Change within our industry tends to happen relatively slowly, usually giving us time to shape outcomes that benefit the industry, giving us time to anticipate and prepare.

"Conversely, change in our industry happens slowly – so if you're in a hurry for something to happen, you might be frustrated with the pace of change," Graves said. "In almost every instance, our past is a very good indicator of what our future will hold– and this industry's past is certainly a story of growth, success and profitability."

American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. Through a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences and councils, ATA is the voice of the industry America depends on most to move our nation’s freight. Follow ATA on Twitter or on Facebook. Good stuff. Trucks Bring It!

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