As Yogi Berra might have asked, will 2011 be “déjà vu all over again?” The ocean carriers are at it again, outsourcing once-traditional liner services to third-party logistics companies. This year will see the decoupling of container chassis, a service provided for decades by liner haulage in the United States. This change represents a paradigm shift for the U.S. logistics market, moving responsibility and management for chassis to truckers, shippers and ocean transportation intermediaries.
Truckers will inherit the assets, maintenance and liability of the chassis, while the role of the OTI in the process will increase. Many of the same carriers operate in other markets, where they’ve been performing port-to-port liner service without chassis for a long time. Supporters of decoupling chassis believe nothing substantial will change regarding haulage to and from inland points other than the chassis ownership. I’m not so convinced.
If the past is any indication, the long-term effects and unintended consequences remain unknown. Outsourcing the pesky less-than-container load market to non-vessel-operating common carriers in the early 1980s was a marketing disaster that cut into carriers’ much larger full container load market share. Europe has been driven by merchant haulage (including chassis) for years. That market also is a forwarders’ market, with a majority of the cargo controlled by OTIs.
The only certainty is that the role of the OTIs as a linchpin in the supply chain grows more influential, and participation in traditional liner market share increases with each passing year.