The Roemer Report September 1985

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DEREGULATION'S LATEST UPROAR: Pandora's box could not produce more chaos than deregulation. Its impact reaches far beyond trucking services and costs. Today, deregulation affects all transportation­ related areas, including freight terms. In this new, super-competitive climate, customers and vendors both want control of motor carrier ship­ ments. Traditionally, the responsibility was an unwanted administrative burden. Customers generally preferred FOB Destination, freight-prepaid shipments. Their vendors chose the carrier and added freight charges to their invoice. The arrangement pleased customers since vendors dealt with carriers and owned the goods until safe delivery. Conversely, vendors usually preferred to ship FOB Origin, freight collect. Cus­ tomers paid motor carriers direct, taking responsibility for goods during transit…But deregulation has reversed these preferences, per­ mitting motor carriers to offer numerous cost-saving options. Product prices normally include standard shipping charges, so freight savings go to the bottom line. Now customers and vendors are vying for freight control -- and the monetary advantage. Moreover, both parties are clearly on the lookout for bigger and better bargains. The result: An explosion in "custom" trucking arrangements, making dock traffic chaotic and turning freight negotiations upside-down.

THE PRIVATE CARRIER QUESTION: Will a coin toss decide the fate of private carriers? Many say the private versus for-hire trans­ portation debate is too close to call. But companies are taking a magnifying glass to cost and service quality comparisons. On the cost side, private carriers are weak competition for independent truckers. Out-of-pocket and overhead expenses are only partly to blame. Private carriers must also absorb costs incurred hauling partial loads and traveling empty miles. But private fleet defenders say better customer service offsets the added costs. Private carrier operations are more flexible and responsive to client needs. Communication is better, especially when breakdowns threaten to delay deliveries. Moreoever, marketing managers claim company drivers are important links with customers. Since independent truckers repre­sent themselves, they can't fill the same customer relations role. In fact, some companies fear their clients would interpret a move to for-hire transportation as a service decline. Others disagree. They claim deregulation-fueled competition promotes consistently high quality service. The pros and cons are equally valid. To be or not to be... private fleet owners may have a tough time answering the question.

SHARING THE BLAME: Who is behind last year's 14% climb in truck-related accidents? Truckers willingly accept partial responsibility. But they say the Federal government and passenger car motorists must share the blame. Industry leaders claim the Department of Transportation places low priority on trucking safety. Pointing to weak support, they say the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety has just 130 inspectors for about five million trucks. Moreover, the National Hi hwa Safet Administration cut $1.2 million from truck safety research funds…down to 350,000. But deregulation causes a more serious problem. Faced with severe competition and squeezed earnings, some operators postpone truck main­tenance. Others drive longer and faster to boost income with more loads. The resulting pressure spells death on the highways. Passenger car motorists compound the safety problem, causing almost 40% of all accidents involving trucks. They fail to understand that 18-wheelers can't maneuver or stop like automobiles. Still, truckers win the reputation of "highway bully." Meanwhile, observers say public sentiment could hurt industry changes for badly needed tax cuts and regulatory reform. To improve matters, industry trade groups like the American Trucking Associations stress safety with their members. They hope to educate truckers and encourage legislators to become more safety conscious.

DETROIT BOOSTS DOMESTIC STEEL: When foreign competition closed in on American steel­ makers, their battle cry was "cost reduction." But today, several years after the initial squeeze, major industry reforms are underway. U.S. automakers are behind many key changes. In its fight against imports, Detroit is loyal to domestic steel producers. But it demands better performance. Since car makers purchase 30% of industry volume, they have awesome clout. Steel companies are quick to respond, reducing shipment rejections and improving delivery times. Detroit is helping the process by negotiating higher-volume, longer-duration contracts. The Big Three are also using more single suppliers. This stability gives steel producers the green light for new technology investment. But the industry is still plagued by cutthroat pricing and other profound problems. To raise needed capital, some steel companies must sell profitable subsidiaries. Major labor con­ tract reform may also be necessary. For the short term, many firms are closing obsolete facilities to reserve capital for efficient operations. There are no easy answers for the steel producer's plight. But Detroit's contributions will not go unnoticed.

THE ROAD AHEAD: The current economic recovery is relatively mature. Growth for the first half of this year diminished, causing many to speculate that we would be headed for an economic downturn. But it looks like Fleet Owners can keep the pedal to the floor for the balance of 1985. The current consumer economic projection calls for a pickup in growth for the second half of this year. The Reagan Administration calls it a resurgence. A key ingredient in this highly favorable outlook is the rapid growth in the money supply, supported by an accommodating Fed. Inflation is low and apparently going nowhere. Oil prices are headed south. Consumer confidence is exceptionally high.•.as indicated by record personal debt levels. Manufacturers have trimmed their inventories of unsold goods and must boost production to keep up with sales. For truckers it looks like a green light and dry pavement for the next 6 months.

THE AMERICAN CAR MYTH: U.S. patriots who claim they only buy American are in for a shock. Chances are their new Ford, Chrysler or Chevrolet is packed with foreign-made parts. Worse still, the car itself may be an import. Auto industry observers say it's a matter of economics. Many foreign markets offer cheaper labor and more efficient production. With pure foreign imports glutting the U.S. market, automakers say they must find competitive alternatives. Tapping foreign resources is one solution. Spotting these American imposters is difficult for all but industry experts. Here's a look at five auto import varieties…(1) True imports are foreign-made under a foreign name, sold by their own dealerships. (2) Captive imports are made abroad, given a name in Detroit, then sold by domestic dealers. (3) Transplanted imports are made by foreign automakers on U.S. soil. (4) Joint venture imports are the product of a domestic-foreign car making partnership set up in this country. The cars are assembled here, using mostly imported parts. Invisible imports are American-made by domestic manufacturers. They have American names but very few U.S.-made components…Industry analysts claim this cross-breeding gives foreigners a strangle hold on new car sales. Imports, in pure and hybrid form, already represent a third of the American auto market. Within a few years, that figure could reach 50%. Detroit blames Federal import and tax policies for fueling the trend.

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