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As we set our sights on 2024, the transportation markets face both economic challenges and rapid advancements in technology. Evolving consumer behaviors, environmental concerns and shifting geopolitical landscapes will determine the industry's trajectory.
The global picture
Today, negative economic forces are in play, but they are slowly shifting towards a positive trend. While recognising persistent recessionary factors, we anticipate European Central Bank and national monetary policies to gradually ease the pressures of inflation, without triggering long-lasting recessionary behaviour by industries and consumers. Although GNP target levels may not be attained until next year, tangible progress will foster a positive mindset, and this may happen more quickly in North America than in Europe.
A note of caution: the UK’s recovery has not been as aggressive and noticeable improvements may not be seen until 2025, or beyond.
If the war in Ukraine continues at the current hostile levels, and with no coalition intervention, we would expect sanctions on Russia to increase. This is likely to cripple the Russian economy and seriously constrict its war material production.
China-USA political and trade tensions are likely to ease as each side recognises its mutual dependency, with the EU as a secondary beneficiary.
Fuel supplies should be ample, allowing for price stabilisation. Alternatives to Russian oil and gas have been identified, which should alleviate spot shortages, as seen in the past winter.
The transportation picture
Despite the rapid cost of living increases during the Covid years, most transportation unions have remained relatively calm, with only a few exceptions. However, the effects of compounding inflation have affected those least equipped to manage, so continued upward pressure on wage costs remains inevitable.
The German road toll increase, which is effective in December of this year, is likely to spur similar changes in nearby countries, causing additional costs to long-distance hauling.
Although the transportation capacity/demand balance may reach an equilibrium, inflation will continue to propel price increases in contract and spot alike, until it is brought fully under control. This may differ across territories: US prices are likely to stay at the higher end, while limitations on expansion may restrict longer-term increases in Europe.
Secondary 2024 observations focus on the impact of both emerging technologies and further sustainability legislation. Artificial Intelligence and automation applications in material handling and carrier resource deployment will improve efficiency.
Sustainability objectives and legislation, such as the EU Fit for 55 initiative, will wield a significant influence on the freight industry. In response to heightened awareness and regulations, companies will invest in eco-friendly transportation options. Electric and hybrid vehicles, alternative fuels and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain will become the norm. Businesses demonstrating a strong commitment to sustainability will gain a competitive edge in this eco-conscious era. However, costs will be passed on through all levels of the supply chain.
Despite a recent cool down in e-commerce after Covid 19, its acceleration will continue to redefine consumer and industrial procurement strategies, leading to a gradual decline in traditional bricks-and-mortar retail. Last-mile capability and GPS-level visibility will become both a necessity and a differentiator.
Finally, end-to-end visibility across entire supply chains, as opposed to an incomplete picture created by silos, will become increasingly dominant. This will enhance decision making, resilience and stability for companies.
Despite multiple unknowns, we sense a guarded optimism that inflation and consumer sentiment will slowly return to pre-pandemic levels. Further positive outcomes may arise from geopolitic shifts. If we consider the possibility that the war in Ukraine may reach a stalemate, both sides could be compelled to negotiate a mutually acceptable new status-quo. Shared necessity and interdependence might also contribute to a reduction in tensions between China and the USA.This will spur industrial production and calm financial markets.
Progress on any of the above will improve the global economy, setting the stage for full recovery.