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North America may be in the thick of winter, but the number of newsworthy events in January confirms that freight transportation players are far from hibernating. From a leadership change at FMCSA to coping with geopolitical uncertainties, surface transportation providers must remain nimble in the ever-shifting macroeconomic environment, based on what made the headlines in January.

Here’s some news that we at Logistics Group International want to bring to your attention:

Head of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Resigns

Just over a year of serving as the lead administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Robin Hutcheson resigned from her post, effective Jan. 26, according to a FreightWaves article.

Hutcheson’s tenure as FMCSA head began in September 2022. She is the seventh administrator who has served as FMCSA’s head since the agency was established in 2000, according to FreightWaves.

Following Hutcheson’s departure, FMCSA Assistant Administrator Sue Lawless will serve as acting administrator. Lawless is also FMCSA’s executive director and chief safety officer. 

According to the article, Hutcheson supported safety initiatives by developing the National Roadway Safety Strategy and helping to secure funding for safety programs via the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. However, critics questioned whether she was spending too much time focusing on non-safety issues, such as private contracts between brokers and trucking companies.

J.B. Hunt’s Q4 Net Profit Falls 24% on Increased Costs

Higher costs in the fourth quarter dented net profits for J.B. Hunt Transport Services, the Lowell, Ark.-based transportation and logistics company said on Jan. 18

J.B. Hunt reported a fourth-quarter 2023 net profit of $153.5 million, or $1.47 per diluted share, compared with $201.3 million, or $1.92 per diluted share, for the fourth quarter of 2022.  Revenue fell 9% to $3.3 billion. 

Inflationary costs, as well as higher costs for wages, health care benefits, and equipment, weighed on company earnings in the fourth quarter. Inflationary costs and insurance prices also put pressure on earnings, Transport Topics quoted J.B. Hunt CEO John Roberts as saying

“We incurred $53 million of additional costs in the quarter, largely related to higher claims cost and exceeding coverage limits in certain insurance layers,” Roberts said. 

Tia Suggests FMCSA Needs To Fight Fraud

A trade association representing 3PLs and brokers recently told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that FMCSA isn’t doing enough to combat fraud.

Speaking on behalf of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, Jeffrey Tucker told lawmakers that “malicious actors” are registering as 3PLs and brokerage firms even though they’re not who they say they are, according to a FreightWaves article on the Jan. 17 hearing held by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

Tucker said the alleged fraud is costing the industry $800 million. He urged lawmakers to compel FMCSA to enforce the laws or investigate the “tens of thousands of fraud complaints” facing the agency. 

Besides the alleged fraud activity, lawmakers also discussed with witnesses whether there is a driver shortage and how the impact of attacks on cargo vessels in the Red Sea is affecting U.S. port activity, according to the article.

Survey: Geopolitical Instability Contributes to CEOs’ Anxiety

Company leaders are still nervous about the effect of geopolitical uncertainties on investing and sourcing, according to a Supply Drive article reporting on AlixPartners’ Disruption Index.

The annual index, which surveys 3,100 executives, of which about 10% are CEOs, was down 5% from 2022. AlixPartners says the index helps company leaders globally respond to disruptive challenges.

The article also noted that 65% of CEOs have more anxiety than other respondents, with much of the concern centered on whether their companies are agile enough to tackle disruptive forces. Meanwhile, 49% of other respondents reported that their companies were experiencing high levels of disruption. 

Companies that AlixPartners labels as “disruptors” within the consumer products industry are also 35% to change their supply footprint by reshoring or nearshoring, according to the survey.

Trucking Research Group Surveying Drivers on Women’s Experiences

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) is seeking input through early February on the challenges that female truck drivers face in the industry, according to Trucking Drive.

Current and former drivers are welcome to complete the survey, which is taking responses until Feb. 2. The survey welcomes drivers of all genders to respond. 

The survey ranks drivers’ experiences, including lack of adequate break time, concern over personal safety, excessive detention time, and encounters involving harassment or discrimination, among other issues, according to the article. 

ATRI, a nonprofit, estimates that women constitute about 8.1% of all U.S. truck drivers, with 2.7% being over-the-road drivers. The group launched a similar survey last fall to gather feedback from motor carriers, the article said. 

Cold Weather Puts The Freeze On Freight Markets

Frigid temperatures are expected to cool the freight markets in the first quarter, FreightWaves said in a recent State of Freight webinar.

FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller and Director of Freight Market Intelligence Zach Strickland discussed how the deep freeze not only slows deliveries but also may discourage consumers from going out to shop or partake in other activities. FreightWaves’ SONAR data is also showing softness, reflecting the slowdown in delivery activity, according to an article on FreightWaves’ website.

The webinar also discussed a potential trucking market revival in the second half of 2024, the effect of disruptions in the Red Sea and the Panama Canal on global trade movements, reshoring, nearshoring, and LTL capacity.

Nikola Aims to Build Out Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure

Nikola Corp. appears to be moving forward with building infrastructure that would fuel its Class 8 Tre hydrogen fuel cell electric tractors.

The company expects to have seven refueling locations online by mid-year, with plans to grow that number to up to 60 stations nationwide, according to a Transport Topics article.

Nikola already has one refueling station in Ontario, Calif., that fuels customers’ trucks and units in Nikola’s demonstrator fleet. That facility can refuel 25 trucks a day within a span of 20 minutes per truck.

Last December, the Phoenix-based manufacturer signed a 10-year agreement with FirstElement Fuel to refuel Tre semis at a hydrogen refueling station over 400 miles north in Oakland, Calif, Transport Topics said.

“The goal is to use the modular stations as a mechanism to build up demand in markets where customers need the fueling and then over time be able to have permanent stations be built or existing truck stop stations add hydrogen refueling at their locations,” Transport Topics reported Nikola Energy President Joseph Cappello as saying. “We’re trying to create incentives and de-risk, if you will, and accelerate the investments to make heavy-duty stations more possible.”

Let Us Help You Retain A Sense Of Security In Uncertain Times

While macroeconomic uncertainties seem to be an underlying theme at the start of 2024, let us at Logistics Group International provide you with some certainty. We have over 30 years of combined experience handling the logistics of freight, refrigerated goods, and hazardous materials, and we have an extensive carrier network.

Some of the services we provide include:

Contact us to get more information and receive a free freight quote.