The effects of the supply chain disruptions in the automotive industry are being felt in all sectors, including auto transport. “The largest pressure we face is retaining drivers through surges and droughts of production,” says Joe Bercari, vice president and general manager of Mid-Western Car Carriers.
Bercari acknowledges the shortage of professional drivers throughout trucking. “But then when you contemplate how specialized car hauling is — and the amount of time it takes to train the craft — losing experienced human capital can be a devastating problem with no fast path to recovery,” he says.
Bercari is seeing competing industries employ aggressive tactics to attract drivers into their markets, often promising stability and substantial bonuses. “Whether those promises are kept is another discussion, but the result is our industry stands to lose talent faster than it is equipped to replace it,” he says.
Bercari says with the recent dip in volume the company had to work harder to find alternative types of traffic to keep its drivers busy, “and we still lost drivers.”
Julie Delp, president of Nationwide Auto Transport and Nationwide Auto Logistics, sees a direct link between the semiconductor chip shortage, volume forecasts, inventory management, and the ebb-and-flow of freight stability, along with dealer satisfaction and available inventory for the public.
To Bercari’s point, “The direct impact to our operations is the ability to maintain a steady volume of work to keep our drivers busy and engaged in a consistent way,” Delp says, adding that many drivers have left the industry to seek out more stable employment.
“The constant stress placed on drivers of not knowing when or if they’ll have work for the week is pushing them to seek employment elsewhere,” she says. “Families want security and simply cannot make it on a ‘maybe.’”
Delp adds that transporters are being forced to reduce their truck fleets to save on insurance costs, debt service, and interest. “If you don’t have a driver for the truck, you can’t absorb those holding costs for long,” she says.
Specialized transportation providers, particularly those engaging strictly in auto transport, feel the effects to replace drivers that left more severely. “Our trucks are as specialized as our drivers are,” she says. “Many companies simply cannot forecast their fleet need projections for the coming year or years, which will impact freight movement once the chip shortage is addressed.”
Delp says that these issues could have a direct effect on most companies’ abilities to perform to the OEM’s standards. Fewer drivers and trucks on the road mean lower volumes of freight being moved for on-time deliveries. “I suspect that this will have long-term effects on our industry,” she says.