Back to the Future 2 – from industry predictions to today’s reality

13th June 2023

In 2021 we set out three predictions for what cold chain logistics would look like in 2023. Now we’re here, it’s time to evaluate these forecasts, and to review the latest developments in autonomous vehicles, multimodal logistics, and sustainability.

It’s never easy to predict the future. That’s why in 2021 we sent a Thermo King agent ahead to 2023. The report that followed put the focus on 3 key trends to look out for in cold chain logistics.

But the question is, was it accurate? Were we right to align our latest innovations in the Advancer range to these trends, or should we be asking for our money back? Let’s find out.

Trend 1: the impact of automation

The claim from our agent was that by 2023, automated vehicles will begin to enter the mainstream. The evidence suggests this assertion was spot on, as the rate of progress is now delicately poised between field testing and early-stage deployment.

Certainly the concept, and the technologies involved, have been the subject of high-profile trials:

  • Scania has partnered with HAVI Supply Chain to pilot a fully autonomous vehicle in regular traffic conditions between the logistics hubs of Södertälje and Jönköping in Sweden – a 3-hour journey of around 300km
  • This follows on the heels of the world’s first driverless trip for semitrucks, from a railyard in Tucson to a distribution center in Phoenix – with the TuSimple system able to navigate traffic signals and highway lane changes etc.Hebb

In effect, these trials have showcased the ability of autonomous vehicles to negotiate complex routes, adhere to traffic regulations, and ensure timely delivery of cargo. The biggest hurdle now is less technology (aside from cybersecurity), and more about creating effective regulatory frameworks – and building public confidence.

Trend 2: the growing importance of intermodal

The one thing our agent failed to mention in 2020 was Covid19! The pandemic served to expose vulnerabilities in global cold chains, as transport ground to a halt and containers built up in logistics centers around the world.

In response, the logistics industry has become increasingly creative in finding ways to maintain speed and quality of service – with multimodal a key focus area. A good example being the Global Sea-to-Air Logistics Hub opened in Bahrain:

  • It’s now the fastest multimodal hub in the region, with an average bonded lead time of 2 hours – and direct air links to over 60 destinations
  • Sea-to-Air Partners enjoy immediate express release from ports
  • Geared toward perishables, medical devices, and retail goods, the hub is also helping cut costs by 40%

The development of such hubs highlights the growing importance of multimodal (another tick on the box for our agent). At the same time, it also helps demonstrate the on-going activity aimed at removing the main barriers – including more simplified legal arrangements and customs clearance.

Trend 3: the changing face of sustainability

Increased sustainability legislation as arguably the easiest call our agent had to make. Indeed, we’ve certainly witnessed strong growth when it comes to Low/Ultra Low Emission Zones (LEZs and ULEZs). In fact, between 2019 and 2022 the total number of active LEZs in Europe increased by 40% – from 228 to 320.

Just as importantly, we’re also beginning to see the mainstream emergence of ZEZs (zero emission zones), which will no longer allow the use of internal combustion engines. Plans are now in place to create 35 ZEZs by 2030, including 26 in the Netherlands aimed purely at restricting delivery vehicles.

Aware of this direction of travel, Thermo King has invested heavily in electrification – alongside other sustainable fuel sources. Supported by new innovations coming out of our Galway and Barcelona sites, our electrification portfolio now extends to:

  • The C-Series – for small, medium and large trucks
  • The E-Series – fully electric units for battery electric vehicles
  • The V-Series – for vans and trucks – with compressor and an electric power supply
  • The Advancer Series – including the all-electric Advancer-e, and other units compatible with biodiesels

Also, let’s give a special shout out to the newest AxlePower technology that officially launched this year. AxlePower uses the ePower Axle to harvest recovered energy from braking and movement! That electric energy is used to power your refrigeration unit thanks to Thermo King’s Energ-E battery pack. That allows you to turn off the engine and save fuel while shrinking your carbon footprint!

Supporting your vision for the future

Much has happened since 2020. But even without accurate predictions of what was to unfold, Thermo King has long kept its focus on delivering technology that’s future-ready for an increasingly interconnected, autonomous, and sustainable world.

Putting the emphasis on fuel-efficiency, refrigeration performance, and intelligent power has kept us at the cutting edge – and with Advancer in particular, we continue to push back the boundaries of what’s possible.

To see how the Advancer range is pure innovation in motion, click here.  

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Climate Commitment, Cold Chain, Electric, Fleet Management, Hybrid, Innovation, Solutions, Sustainability, Technology, TrucKing