The next chapter in the ever-changing story of the semi-truck promises to be one of the most exciting yet. With revenues projected to hit record numbers, the possibilities within the next decade alone seem limitless. Electric and hybrid trucks. Self-driving vehicles. Extreme designs. And that’s just the beginning. As history has proven, when it comes to the trucking industry, when there’s a need, an innovation is shortly behind it.

Evolution of the semi-truck

Before semi-trucks, shipping freight on land was limited to horse-drawn carriages and trains. Carriages were sufficient for getting goods from rural farms to nearby towns. And trains were perfect for hauling large amounts of freight to big cities with train stations.

But neither form of transportation could efficiently manage the cargo needs of all the places in between. That was, until the late 1800s, when gas-powered automobiles began to rise to prominence in America. But it wasn’t so much the vehicles themselves that gave birth to the notion of semi-trucks.

Instead, it was the need to get these new vehicles to buyers across the country – without putting miles and wear on the new vehicles in the process. This gave rise to the first ever auto hauler – a -trailer attached to the rear of an automobile. It wasn’t until World War I that the next big advancement came in the form of inflated rubber. Railroad congestion led to the need for better long-distance trucking options. And, it was soon clear that trucks could travel much further on inflatable tires versus solid ones.

After that, diesel engines emerged, and helped improve fuel efficiency. And in 1956, one of the most influential events occurred that forever altered the trucking industry – the Federal Highway Act, which constructed over 40,000 miles of interstate highway, connecting the country. Then came shipping container advancements, an energy crisis in 1979, and the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated the industry, allowing for multiple companies to enter the marketplace, all of which had profound effects on the evolution of the semi-truck. So what lies ahead?

Advancements on the horizon

The future of trucking shows no signs of slowing down – even with the U.S. facing a nationwide driver shortage. The 2020s are shaping up to be some of the most revolutionary years yet for the upcoming generation of new trucks, with electric trucks, self-driving trucks and new aerodynamic designs already making waves. Here are just a few things shaping the

Electric and hybrid trucks:

Trucks with hybrid gas/electric or purely electric powertrains – thanks to visionaries like Elon Musk – have been making the news a lot lately. And Tesla isn’t the only one working to get electric trucks on the market. Daimler, Thor and Volvo are also players in the space. And, as more focus gets put on fuel efficient vehicles, emission standards and fuel economy, we can expect many more to join them.

Self-driving trucks

Autonomous vehicles promise to be one of the more interesting – and controversial – innovations in the near future. Industry experts have agreed all along that the commercial trucking industry would likely be one of the first adopters of this technology as a means to increase safety, encourage a new generation of truck driver, lower costs and increase efficiency. Now, it’s only a matter of time before driverless trucks turn the industry on its head.

Smart roads and connectivity

Giles Kirkland, Infographic: Motorways of the Future

As highway traffic and population continue to rise, the development and implementation of smart roads is closer now than ever. Highways lined with sensors will collect and analyze data from drivers to monitor wear and tear, alert vehicles about congestion, or automatically signal for assistance when accidents occur. While smart road technology is still in testing phases, other systems are being developed, tested and implemented now to keep fleets connected 24/7. Trucks designed for the future will be intertwined with other vehicles, local infrastructure, the Cloud and fellow drivers.

Aesthetic and design changes

Concept trucks are continually stealing the show at conferences, boasting aggressive aerodynamics – and even more impressively – aggressive efficiency. And it’s not limited to just exterior changes, like chassis skirts that help decrease drag. The interiors of semi-trucks are also seeing updates that have fewer controls and offer more freedom of movement for operators. As driver responsibilities continue to change and evolve, so too will the interiors of semi-trucks.

Headlong into the future of truck driving

Semi-trucks and the trucking industry as a whole is no stranger to change. Whether the changes ahead come rapidly or more gradually, one thing is certain: the future of the semi-truck is going to look quite different on the roadways than where it is today. And, as history has proven, that’s not always a bad thing. Just different. Fortunately, truck drivers of today and those of the future can rely on Inland Truck Parts and Service to be there to meet – and anticipate – your needs as things continue to evolve. Contact us today to keep your truck running now and long into the future.