Taylor warns of lethargy over driver shortage

Isuzu director’s “two pedal” concern raised after Volvo highlights labour shortfall issue

Taylor warns of lethargy over driver shortage
Phil Taylor says demand for drivers demand ease of their task.


A senior Isuzu executive has raised the likelihood of a driver shortage crisis – the second such intervention this year.

Isuzu Australia Limited director and chief operating officer Phil Taylor believes the looming hole in driver numbers, just as road transport industry is "undergoing a seismic operational shift", has been exacerbated by lax industry attitudes.

In particular, it has been marked by "the historic lethargy in Australia’s take-up of two-pedal operated trucks" and this has "contributed to a stifling labour shortfall within the industry".

Taylor’s intervention comes five months after Volvo Group Australia (VGA) president and CEO Peter Voorhoeve led its charge on the shortage issue with the launch of its report, report, Professional Truck Driver Shortage: How driver availability impacts the transport industry & Australian society.

With the freight task predicted to triple by 2050, "generating an all but unquenchable thirst for a stable and flexible driver workforce", Taylor puts complacency in the frame.

"Short-haul metro freight is showing a particularly dramatic increase," he says.

"It already stands at 28 per cent of the total national freight task, so it’s not over-stating things to suggest that we, as manufacturers and as an industry, have a genuine battle on our hands to meet growing demand."

He suggests one simple option in the phasing-out of the clutch pedal at the lighter end of the market – "an adjustment which will drastically lengthen the list of potential employees for Australian businesses".

"We’ve witnessed, and indeed reacted to, the two-pedal trend as it’s swept across Australia’s automotive markets, but unlike the Americans and Europeans, it’s taken far too long for Australia to adjust." Taylor says.

He couches his observations in the burgeoning ecommerce trend, pointing to a recent NAB Sales Index Report showing year-on-year growth in online shopping of 13.5 per cent, with a current value of $20.1 billion dollars a year.

"Consumers are highly informed and they demand immediacy in their transactions," Taylor says.

"The simple fact is, this shift in consumer behaviour brings with it a critical need for easy to operate light trucks and more drivers to operate them."

This reinforces the need for a re-think of what type of vehicles and labour force are undertaking that ‘last mile’ urban delivery task.

In reflecting on the state of the light-duty segment, the numbers prove there’s been some response to demand.

"There’s been very strong growth in the light truck segment in recent times," Taylor says.

"The segment has shown the strongest growth in the last couple of years, jumping to over 12,000 registrations in 2015."

He points to Truck Industry Council (TIC) figures reveal that just over 55 per cent of light-duty trucks sales in the year to date have been of the two-pedal variety.

"This is up over seven per cent of last year’s figure and up 16 per cent on 2013 two pedal sales," he says.

"These TIC numbers prove we’re on the right track, but whilst the numbers are good, there’s a raft of other factors that highlight the need for even more two-pedal light trucks, and more drivers to operate them."

But manufacturers are not off the hook in Taylor’s critique.

With light trucks especially said to be shouldering 77.3 per cent of the urban freight task, they need to be active also.

"This demonstrates very clearly the task at hand, and the need for a sharper focus for manufacturers on ‘ease of use’ and overall ‘accessibility’ when it comes to product development," Taylor says.

"Whilst Australia has slowly cottoned-on to the two-pedal trend, we have a way to go before we see the sort of take-up rate that we need to ensure industry labour demands are met.

"We must ensure that driving trucks is a genuine and secure career path for prospective employees and employers, and part of that journey starts with the product and its applicability to the end user.

"There’s a patchwork of other issues feeding into Australia’s driver shortage, but without some considered thought at this base level, we’re doomed to be forever reactionary."

 In a snapshot of contributing factors, Isuzu notes:

  • Australia’s freight task is set to triple by 2050
  • Short-haul metro freight 28 per cent of total national freight
  • Road transport total employment: 185,000 and the industry generated just under $52 billion dollars over 2014-15
  • 55 per cent of light-duty trucks sales year-to-date have been two-pedal
  • Light commercial vehicles make up 20 per cent of vehicles on our roads – 3 per cent are light trucks
  • Light trucks perform 77.3 per cent of the domestic urban freight task.

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