NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Shoppers who haven’t bought or ordered Christmas gifts by now may be out of luck.
The trucking industry is in the middle of a crisis, all thanks to the lingering effects of COVID-19. Supply chains are overwhelmed and a labor shortage is set to continue, meaning costs are going up and deliveries are going down. And experts say consumers shouldn’t expect things to get better any time soon.
Just south of Interstate 440 and Highway 70 in North Little Rock sits Dobbs Peterbilt, a full-service heavy-duty truck dealership. A look around the shop may make some think business is booming, but looks can be deceiving.
General Manager Will Carlisle explained that every new rig on their front lot is sold, and yet they sit idle. Nearly 30 used trucks in the back lot, have been collecting dust for months, and those in service bays are barely being tended to Carlisle’s team.
“It’s tough right now,” he said when asked the challenge facing his business.
The problem keeping Carlisle’s team from working on the trucks is simple – they all need parts. He said they are now waiting “In some cases 8 to 10 weeks” for parts that used to get overnight.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 forced manufacturing plants to shut down or suspend operations across the nation. Raw material shortages in steel, aluminum and lumber have also made matters worse.
At the same time demand increased, the availability of products decreased. It was a perfect storm that created a shrinking supply of truck parts, including a global shortage of microchips.
A standard over the road rig has between 25 and 50 microchips. Pre-COVID-19, the trucking industry was paying $2.59 for one microchip. Now, 18 months later, it’s costing them more than a $100.
Getting parts delivered is also a major headache. Take for example a window control module. Carlisle said his crew ordered on with an emergency status for a good customer of the business, but they still waited two months for the component to get to the shop.
Trucking companies are also in the process of replacing their fleets of old trucks with new ones, and the result of that demand is a massive backlog of orders that can’t be filled.
“Most of our members are being told, ‘You can have basically a third of what you would like to order,’” Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton explained.
Those same kinds of limits may also be facing consumers this upcoming holiday season.
“There may be some of what you’re looking for, but there’s not going to be the quantity or the variety of choices that you would have in an otherwise normal holiday season,” Newton said.
As for the future facing for drivers, businesses and consumers, buckle up and hold on tight because the road ahead is going to be a bumpy one.
“We are not being told to expect this to change anytime real soon,” Newton said.
“Originally we were told late summer, August, September it would start improving, and its only continued to get worse,” Carlisle added.
The shortage of microchips has been a major wake-up call for politicians in the United States and Europe. Nearly 75% of microchips are manufactured in Taiwan and South Korea.
The U.S. is now fighting back, though. In May of last year, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing announced it would build a $12 billion chip plant in Arizona, and Intel is now building two semiconductor plants nearby.
The $20-billion project is expected to be completed in 2024, and Samsung is also considering building a manufacturing plant.
The wheels are in motion, now U.S. consumers just have to be patient.