COVID19 has impacted just about every area of society and, by extension, industry. The commercial transport industry has both suffered and benefited from the effects of the pandemic. It is, and will continue to be, a key force in bringing the UK into the “new normal”. To explore further, Emma Tyrer, Head of Finance and Operations at Fleetex looks into how the pandemic has changed the commercial transport industry.
Some areas of work evaporated
The service sector has been badly hit by COVID19. Many businesses were forced to close and hence did not need to be restocked with supplies. Construction has also been up and down. It was halted temporarily but then allowed to restart albeit with restrictions.
The transport industry again has experienced its own share of ups and downs during COVID19. According to Commercial Motor’s Industry Insight 2021, they reported that 34% of their readers within the industry experienced no impact or around the same during the pandemic when it came to trading positions. Whereas 15% said they experienced very negative trading positions during the pandemic.
Other areas of work surged
During lockdown, consumers took a whole new interest in home-life, home-care, self-care, self-development and entertainment. Items related to any of these areas were typically in high demand. Retailers which were still open needed to be constantly restocked with them. Online retailers needed restocking plus deliveries made.
Sales of certain vehicles increased
Overall vehicle manufacturers were very hard-hit by the pandemic (and UK-based vehicle manufacturers had Brexit to cope with as well). The exceptions, however, were 4x4s, pickups, medium-sized vans and larger vans. This may suggest that the commercial transport industry is anticipating some of the pandemic-related changes to become permanent.
For example, online shopping was growing long before the pandemic. During lockdown, however, it reached whole new levels, to the point where some retailers struggled to cope. If this continues, as seems highly likely, there will be an increased need for vehicles to make the “last mile” drops. There will also be an increased need for vehicles to deal with the inevitable returns.
The global supply chain nearly snapped
Most commercial freight starts its journey by sea and ends it by road. Sea freight is economical and, usually, reliable. Its one major weakness is that any disruption to it is very difficult to fix. This weakness became only too apparent during the pandemic as a series of rolling lockdowns closed one port after another.
This already created an incentive for manufacturers to think seriously about moving their manufacturing bases closer to their customer bases. The recent issue with the blocking of the Suez Canal must surely be underscoring the lesson. If this change does go ahead then, again, there will be less need for larger, long-distance vehicles and more need for smaller “last-mile” vehicles.
Driver shortages have become even more of a challenge
The commercial transport industry has long been struggling with the challenge of attracting new drivers to the trade and many within the industry still expect the shortage to be an issue within the next 12 months. Part of this is about giving the industry an image-overhaul. In particular, toning down its very masculine image could help to encourage more women into the area.
Part of this, however, is also about the practicalities of getting new drivers trained and on the roads. The industry has lobbied extensively for the government to provide more assistance here.
Now, there are finally signs of action starting to be taken. The pandemic, and Brexit, probably both helped here as they brought the commercial transport industry into the public spotlight.