WASHINGTON D.C. – According to Roger Nielsen, COO of Freightliner LLC, inflexible emission regulations and a growing shortage of truck drivers and maintenance technicians are complicating the trucking industry’s ability to remain competitive and profitable in the near future – and could affect the outlook of industries serving trucking, such as vehicle manufacturing.

“Stringent emission rules are impacting our company as well as others,” Nielsen said during a speech at an “Innovation Symposium” put on by Freightliner’s parent company, DaimlerChrysler AG here this week.

“We know we have to reduce both mobile and stationary equipment emissions to improve human and environmental health, but the problem is that the current regulatory scheme is neither environmentally nor business friendly,” he explained.

“Customers are leery of new technology, fearing it is both more expensive and less reliable, so we’re worried there will be a large ‘pre-buy’ of vehicles ahead of the regulatory imposition date, followed by a steep decline in new truck sales,” Nielsen said. “So what happens is we ramp up to satisfy demand by investing in plants and hiring more workers, then lay them off when sales decline. That’s bad for business but it’s also bad for the environment, because customers aren’t buying the new technology that would help reduce emissions.”

Nielsen recommended that more incentives need to be offered to trucking companies to reward the “early adopters” of trucks equipped with new low-emission technology. “This way, we also save jobs by having more stable employment at our plants,” he noted.

He also pointed to the shortage of truck drivers and maintenance technicians as two other factors clouding the trucking industry’s outlook – and he believes the separate states must take a more active role in helping solve this labor issue.

“Over the past 10 years, the demand for drivers has increased 3.4% annually, yet the number of people available to be truck drivers has gone up only 1% per year,” Nielsen said. “The same type of chronic shortage is affecting the ranks of maintenance technicians.”

He said more focus by states on creating vocational programs in high schools to funnel young people into these two career paths could help solve both shortages. “We need to encourage young people to join these professions and stronger ‘vo-tech’ programs could help us do it,” he said. “These aren’t bad jobs, either as, for example, a journeyman truck technician can earn up to $70,000 a year. We just need to encourage more young people to look in these directions.”