Above the Fold: Supply Chain and Logistics News (September 25, 2020)

After pushing out my appointment earlier this summer, I finally visited my dentist. 

The good news: my perfect record of no cavities remains intact. 

The bad news: it looks like I’ve started to grind my teeth, which could cause my teeth to chip or crack, so my dentist recommends that I get a night guard. 

The next day, believe it or not, I read this headline from The New York Times: “A Dentist Sees More Cracked Teeth. What’s Going On?” Here’s an excerpt from the article:

One obvious answer is stress. From Covid-induced nightmares to “doomsurfing” to “coronaphobia,” it’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is affecting our collective mental health. That stress, in turn, leads to clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.

Remember the weird dream I had in May, the one with the newspapers not getting delivered? Maybe that was the genesis of my teeth grinding, or perhaps the dream after that, or the one after that, or the one after that…

I’m getting a night guard. 

In the meantime, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

The Coming End of the Internal Combustion Engine?

As Adam Bearm reports in AP, “California will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks in 15 years, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, establishing a timeline in the nation’s most populous state that could force U.S. automakers to shift their zero-emission efforts into overdrive.”

Yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, William Boston writes:

Last week, the European Union signaled that it would tighten its carbon-dioxide car-emission targets for the next decade. The EU’s cap of 95 grams per kilometer on carbon-dioxide emissions takes full effect next year. Slashing that target to 47.5 g/km in 2030, as the EU is now considering, would require fully electric vehicles to account for more than 60% of new-car sales in Europe—up from about 4% now.

China has also been moving quickly through regulation to suppress greenhouse-gas emissions from cars, while developing markets for electric vehicles.

Arndt Ellinghorst, automotive analyst at Bernstein Research, sums it up nicely in the article: “Europe and China have woken up to the fact that [the combustion engine] is dead. Now, it looks like the U.S. is waking up.”

Of course, truck manufacturers have been working on electric and other alternative fuel trucks for several years. Although one of the newer entrants, Nikola, is under fire at the moment regarding its technology (or lack of), the industry continues to make progress. For example, as reported by Heavy Duty Trucking last week, “Daimler Trucks showed off a Mercedes-Benz concept truck powered by fuel cells, with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles).” Here are some details from the article:

The Mercedes-Benz GenH2 Truck, which had its world premiere as a concept vehicle, marks the beginning of fuel-cell drive, according to the company. Daimler Trucks plans to begin customer trials of the GenH2 Truck in 2023, with series production to start in the second half of the decade.

Thanks to the use of liquid instead of gaseous hydrogen with its higher energy density, Daimler said its performance will equal that of a comparable conventional diesel truck. The production version of the GenH2 Truck will have a gross vehicle weight of 40 tons and a payload of 25 tons. Two special liquid-hydrogen tanks and a particularly powerful fuel-cell system will make this high payload and long range possible.

There’s also the Tesla Semi and Freightliner eCascadia, among others.

So, which will be a better replacement for diesel: battery-powered semi trucks or those powered by alternative fuels like hydrogen? Bill Gates recently shared his opinion, writing in a blog post:

“The problem is that batteries are big and heavy. The more weight you’re trying to move, the more batteries you need to power the vehicle. But the more batteries you use, the more weight you add—and the more power you need. Even with big breakthroughs in battery technology, electric vehicles will probably never be a practical solution for things like 18-wheelers, cargo ships, and passenger jets. Electricity works when you need to cover short distances, but we need a different solution for heavy, long-haul vehicles.”

Elon Musk’s response? “[Bill Gates] has no clue.”

Then again, maybe all of this is a moot point. We might have Hyperloop by 2035, or instead of using trucks, companies will rely on self-driving planes or heavy-lift drones (see news items above) to deliver their goods.

The only thing I know for sure about the year 2035 is that some innovation will emerge between now and then that we’re not even imaging right now, an innovation that will improve life as we know it today and raise the bar again on what’s possible.

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Visitor” by Of Monsters and Men