FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - E-commerce action in the $450 billion U.S. trucking industry is already giving off sparks, and it's heating up even more with Web sites for load brokers, shippers and providers of information.
"I've counted something like 55 trucking industry service-related sites," said John Fontanella, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston.
The trucking industry has been behind some others in Internet use, said Bruce Martin, editor at trucking Web portal Layover.com Inc. in Akron, Pennsylvania.
But the success of existing trucking sites and the increasingly common use of wireless networking will cause "communications in the industry to change more in the next three months than it has in the past three years," he predicted.
This week, General Mills Inc., Land O'Lakes Inc., The Pillsbury Co., Graphic Packaging Corp. and Fort James Corp. announced plans for a Web-based freight and logistics exchange. By combining shipments, they can "ship in truckload quantities, not [less-than-truckload] quantities," Fontanella said.
Three weeks ago, six of the largest U.S. carriers - Covenant Transport Inc., J.
B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., M.S. Carriers Inc., Swift Transportation Co., U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc. and Werner Enterprises Inc. - announced that they will merge their logistics units into the site www. transplace.com. The Web site will match loads with open spots on carriers' trucks and save the companies money by combining the group's purchasing power.
Layover.com added online mapping to its Web portallast month. In addition to free e-mail, trucking news, chat rooms and links to related sites, it offers online databases of loads and routes available through several brokers, via www.truckstop.com, for a $25 monthly fee.
The concept isn't new, Fontanella said. "There are a lot of load-matching bulletin board services," mostly dedicated to particular markets.
"Sixty percent of trucking companies in the U.S. have fewer than 99 trucks," said Donald Broughton, an analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis.
Load-matching sites help those companies manage logistics and avoid deadheading - returning from a delivery with an empty truck - since shippers pay only for "loaded" miles.
Shippers and carriers use most sites for free, though shippers often advertise for bids online and then receive bids and award jobs off-line, Fontanella said.
Real-time transactions are coming to Truckstop.com and other similar sites within the next three months, Martin said, and full-fledged auction sites should appear by year's end.