It’s hard to wrap your head around the entire scope of how Covid has hit the world economy, but it’s not enough to look at supply shortages alone. Truck drivers are getting screwed, too. All that and more in The Morning Shift for August 30, 2021.
Truck drivers are getting caught up in the middle of things during Covid, as the Financial Times explains in a new report:
Aliaksandr Matsiash, a Belarusian exile, joined Lithuanian trucking group Baltic Transline in May. But after two weeks of training, followed by 13 weeks living in a truck based in the Netherlands — all for a mere €2,470 — the 30-year-old quit.
“It’s not a normal life for a human,” he said. “It’s like a prison, it’s not a job. You do it like a zombie.”
Analysts say a global shortage of truck drivers has persisted since the middle of the 2000s. But Matsiash’s case illustrates the human dimension of a deteriorating global driver shortage that has tipped into a crisis only recently visible to the wider public.
At odds here is that truckers are being asked to shoulder greater risk, at worse pay, in worse conditions. And this is in an industry well aware that there is a shortage of drivers, as the FT lays out:
The transport sector’s labour issues have built up over time as multinational companies have driven down supply chain costs. At the same time, the trucking workforce in developed nations has aged — the average truck driver in the UK is 55 — while more jobs have become computer-based.
Bob Costello, chief economist at American Trucking Associations, said the number of drivers in general freight in the US had dropped to 430,000, down from 465,000 people at the start of 2020. “The driver shortage in the US is getting even worse; it is as bad as it has ever been,” he added
This all goes to show that our cheap everyday purchases, everything from groceries on up, is based on an unsustainably exploitative system.
I do not know if any American city could pull this off without rioting in the streets. We’ll see how things go in Paris, as the city starts a blanket 30 km/h (18 mph) limit today, as the BBC reports:
A speed limit of 30km/h (18mph) has come into force across Paris in a drive to improve the environment.[...]The measure is being introduced now so Parisians can get used to it during a period of lighter summer holiday traffic, city officials say.It’s one of several policies proposed by Ms Hidalgo, who was re-elected last year, to wean Parisians off their cars.The number of street parking bays is being halved and most vehicles are expected to be banned from the city centre next year. Cycle lanes have increased and streets are being redesigned to make districts more pedestrian friendly.
I am not sure why Paris is not banning cars altogether. These half-measures asking drivers to slow down on streets built for higher speeds never seem like they’ll work out. I guess it is a step in the right direction, at least.
Speaking of, Jalopnik alum Aaron Gordon has a good new report in Vice about how walking has become part of the American culture war. It turns out the desire to live in a walkable community, or to prefer to drive absolutely everywhere splits best by political affiliation, per Vice:
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll that studied the issue of whether people prefer to live in places where “schools, stores, and restaurants are within walking distance” versus where they are “several miles away,” the biggest divide in opinion is not young versus old, urban versus rural, or education level. It is political preference.
Just 22 percent of Conservatives want to live in walkable neighborhoods, while 77 percent prefer driving everywhere. A slightly higher percentage of Republicans or people who lean Republican as a whole, 26 percent, want walkable neighborhoods. Meanwhile, 44 percent of moderate Democrats and 57 percent of liberals want walkable neighborhoods, resulting in a 50/50 split among Democrats as a whole.
That gap of 35 percent between Liberals who want to live in walkable neighborhoods and Conservatives who do is larger than the gap between those with postgraduate degrees and high school diplomas or less who want walkable neighborhoods (14 percent) or 18-29 year olds versus 50-64 year olds (12 percent). The poll also shows a 26-point gap between Asians who want walkable neighborhoods (58 percent) versus whites (36 percent), although the poll was only conducted in English.
America, as a whole, is a spectacularly beautiful country, but our towns, suburbs, and cities choked with six-lane quasi-highways are really unpleasant places to walk. I’m not surprised a lot of us can’t imagine wanting anything other than a car to get anywhere.
Bloomberg has a new report on Rivian’s $80 billion valuation, higher than General Motors’ $72 bn. The long and short of it is it doesn’t have any real grounding in reality, but Bloomberg declaring “Rivian’s $80 Billion Worth Reflects Confidence, Not Cash Flow” puts it in a more polite manner:
To an EV unicorn these days, cash flow is about as relevant as carburetors. And Rivian, having yet to deliver a vehicle, probably doesn’t have much of it to speak of. The $80 billion figure is a volatile mix of hopes and dreams, blended with 12 years of hard work and turbocharged with investment-bank swagger.
Is it fair and accurate? Who knows. Since the company isn’t really on the road yet, all we have are some general yardsticks, some tire-kicking. Tesla has a market cap of $713 billion at the moment. It took the company almost 20 years to top the $80 billion mark. In that time, Tesla produced almost 1 million vehicles and built arguably the world’s best charging network.
Then there are Rivian’s electric-truck rivals. Ford, a 118-year-old startup, has a market cap of $53 billion at the moment, a number that doesn’t ascribe much to Bronco mania or thesurge in deposits for its battery-powered F-150 Lightning, due in the spring of 2022, or the smaller Maverick hybrid pickup debuting this fall. Ford at least has some upside in the IPO. It’s an investor in Rivian, having poured $500 million into the company in April 2019 and chipped in additional undisclosed amounts in more recent rounds. (Ford already disclosed a $902 million non-cash gain on its investment in Rivian in the first quarter.)
General Motors, another e-truck aspirant, is a $72 billion enterprise at the moment.
Toyota has been facing factory shutdowns over Covid outbreaks this past month. Its most recent official production figures are from July, but they already show signs of the slowdown to come. From the Japan Times:
Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday its global output increased 11.9% in July from a year earlier to 773,135 vehicles, but the pace of increase has been slowing on the coronavirus pandemic and a global shortage of semiconductors.
The output grew for the 11th straight month but the rate of rise was well below the 41.2% gain in June. The top Japanese automaker is expecting a production cut ahead due to difficulties in securing components amid surging coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, where many suppliers are based.
Toyota has said it expects its global production in September to fall by 40%, or some 360,000 units, from its initial plan.
Toyota’s saving grace is Americans keep buying RAV4s:
Toyota globally sold 858,569 units, up for the 11th straight month and the largest figure for the month of July, driven by a recovery in auto demand in key overseas markets including North America.
It sold 718,762 units overseas, up 16.0%. Robust demand for the RAV4 sport utility vehicle helped boost sales in North America, Toyota said.