I often hear complaints about a lack of innovation in vehicle logistics. Carmakers accuse carriers of failing to update equipment and systems to fit the modern age. Logistics providers cry equally foul, citing rate squeezes that leave most unable to invest let alone innovate.

I’ve never waded deep into this argument, which goes back further than the five years I’ve been editing this magazine – perhaps beyond even the 33 years since I was born this April. While the financial crisis and subsequent recessions have exacerbated divisions, the debate is essentially an industry ritual. Buyers and sellers tug back and forth, eventually pulling each other forward, albeit slowly.

However, I can see where some might despair. While plants are full of AGVs and advanced picking technology, fed by a global supply chain synchronised by order and transport, outbound vehicles appear to move the same way they have for decades (with at least some equipment still in service since the time I was born). Visibility and tracking remain paper-based and manual in many instances. Rather than planning loads in advance, trucks often wait days at ports or railheads for full consignments.

On the other hand, vehicle logistics providers have responded to tremendous changes, not least carving out new trade routes and keeping distribution costs low. Regulations have pushed fleets to drastically reduce pollutants and fuel. Damage rates in many markets are but a fraction of a fraction. [sam_ad id=6 codes='true']

This year is shaping up to be another of great change. New plants will come online in Mexico, reshaping North American export patterns. Volvo Car Group is opening two plants in China, adopting outbound IT systems and best practices from Europe. Sulphur emissions at sea will be restricted to 0.1% in northern Europe and North America, ushering in new fuel technology. In India, rail reforms have brought investment for modern, multi-level rail wagons. Electronic delivery and billing processes (like ePOD) are gaining traction, particularly in the US where Chrysler has issued a mandate for providers to comply this year.

Many would argue that these are less advances than they are reactions, some of which are quite overdue. The resistance among several European carriers to use EDI, for example, has surprised Volvo. The coming sulphur changes have been known for years, yet some carriers appear in denial.  

Despite some kicking and screaming, I’m confident providers will meet the changes this year, as well as those over the next 33. With automotive moving towards ever-stricter emission controls, self-driving vehicles and more disruptive technology, providers will have to show considerable innovation just to keep up with it all.