Auto Shipping: How Technology Has Changed The Industry

Auto-shipping has come a long way. Today, the process of shipping cars across state lines has become simple and convenient. Of course, the loading and unloading of vehicles is still a tough job for car shipping companies. However, technological advances have made the coordination of hauling cars and handling operations far less overwhelming than before.

In this article, we take a look at the humble origins that enabled manufacturers to ferry one car at a time. We’ll also discuss existing car shipping technologies that have transformed the sector.

The First Semi-Truck

Car shipping dates back to the 19th century when automobiles were first discovered. During this period, cars were expensive to own. They were considered a luxury and imported from Europe. The demand for cars was low, too, because of the high price tag. But car shipping was a priority to allow these machines to reach their final destination after manufacturing.

The majority of car hauling was done via railroads for the better part of the 19th century. Sadly, it proved to be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking, especially with the road infrastructure still in its early years in America. Thus, a car designer called Alexander Winton invented the first semi-truck in 1898.

He wanted to make sure clients received their new shipped cars with zero mileage on them. The semi-truck was a modified vehicle featuring a flat cart. It could haul only one car at any given time.

Ensuing Transport Alternatives

Winton’s new invention didn’t last long. The expansion of the automobile industry required better alternatives for vehicles transportation.

Rail Vehicles

With the rise in the popularity of automobiles, manufacturers were looking for ways to ship cars at scale. The latest models of the Ford Model T were invented and mass-produced by Henry Ford. These cars were shipped to clients through purposely designed rail vehicles in 1910. They were sold for only $300. It is this affordability that led to the explosion of the automotive industry in America.

In the 1950s, a host of car companies and shippers designed and began using two-level car shipping flat-cars for trains. A notable example was Volkswagen, which had designed a flatcar with two levels with the capacity to carry 10 cars. By the 1960s, tri-level railroad carriers were the norm and could transport 12 vehicles at a time.

Car Haulers

After Winton’s first semi-truck, there were further developments by different designers. By the late 1940s, the auto carriers had transformed into 4-place quad trailers. They also featured some fascinating designs. For instance, in the 1950s, the majority of them featured ornate art-déco elements.

Several early car haulers appeared like tanks made in a trash heap for a post-apocalyptic planet. What remained constant is the chassis and trailer design, which is still found in some carriers to this day.

During the 1960s, a lot of the ‘traditional looking’ car haulers started to become common on the road. They could accommodate up to eight vehicles, all in close proximity.


The construction of highways across the USA led to the boom of car shipping across state borders. With no regulations over a century ago, extremely long trucks ferried one to two levels of vehicles using different creative methods.

It was the bylaws in the 1930s that brought about safer shipping methods. They also led to familiar-looking vehicle haulers that served as the prototype of how vehicles are transported today. The enactment of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 led to the deregulation of the interstate trucking industry. This has led to increased stiff competition for car shipping services.

The Internet Age

Transportation Management Systems (TMS) and load boards have been in use since the start of the auto shipping industry. Initially, they took the form of a message board with written details of shipment attached to them.

In the late 1970s, load boards were transformed into the digital age. Thus, truckers were able to view shipment loads shown on screens in truck centers that could be coordinated via phone.

By the 1980s, the TMS was commonly used for supply chain, logistics, and enterprise resource planning management. The Internet paved the way for the inaugural web-based load boards in the mid-90s. This allowed shippers and carriers to connect online.

Today, TMS helps auto shipping companies automate their back-office activities and communicate effectively with drivers and clients.

Modern Technologies

Thanks to new technological advances, more vehicles are being shipped quickly and safely to their owners. Some of these innovations include:

Cloud Technology

Initially, auto shippers stored all their operational data on external hardware. The disadvantage of this storage method was that it was costly to install and maintain. As a result, auto carriers were less efficient in terms of delivering cars on time.

With the advent of cloud technology, however, all the information is safely stored on a remote database. Plus, data retrieval is made easier regardless of your location. Auto shippers need only need their smartphones to access customer information.

Internet of Things

The Internet of things (IoT) is a sophisticated network where physical objects are attached to sensor technologies to share data with other networks and devices across the internet. The car shipping industry has taken the lead in adopting this technology. It helps car shipping companies find and use well-efficient routes. This, in turn, boosts fuel economy and makes trips less costly and stressful.

Besides its efficiency, IoT also provides driving-assisted features that help keep drivers and their shipping trucks safe. For instance, car shipping trucks fitted with IoT-powered communication systems will have automatic information on what to anticipate on the road. Additionally, seat belt sensors can scan the physical state of the driver for signs of exhaustion and intoxication.

Renewable Fuel Sources

Auto shippers are turning away from the use of petrol and diesel. This is because they are derived from fossil fuels and are thus relatively costly and not eco-friendly. Today, shippers are adopting the use of sustainable fuel sources, including:

The Bottom Line

The technological advances listed above paint a clear picture of the humble origins of the auto shipping industry and how fast the sector is evolving. With technologies constantly evolving, auto shippers can adopt more disruptive innovations to deliver vehicles more efficiently.

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