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Here is my annual report on the top stories in surface transportation in the United States and Canada over the past year. These stories are not listed in order of importance.

Economic Stability, Political Chaos, and Tightening Freight Capacity

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This is the decade of the “effect.” As  an example, we keep hearing about the “Trump Effect.” While not much of his legislative agenda has been approved to date, president Trump still has almost three and half years remaining on his first term in office. It will be interesting to see how much of his “conservative” agenda is implemented and the impact that it will have. Of particular interest will be the NAFTA negotiations that begin on August 16. Similarly, Climate Change is having profound effects in various parts of the world, whether it is from flooding, forest fires, drought, severe storms, or floating ice bergs.

We are also going through an era of major transformations in energy production/consumption and technology. The new Tesla car that was introduced to great reviews this week may be the catalyst to a shift away from gasoline-powered cars to electric vehicles. The fact that this beautifully designed car, introduced at a market friendly price, can get almost 500 miles on a charge, could be a turning point in the evolution of electric vehicles. India has recently made a major commitment to electric vehicles.  This coupled with driverless or at least semi-autonomous cars and trucks, that are a few years away, could have profound effects on energy consumption and transportation.

Smartphones, tablets, ecommerce, apps and Uber threaten to have an equally dramatic impact in many areas of business. One company that is very well positioned to capitalize on the Technology Effect is Amazon. Here are a few statistics to consider.

While total retail sales in the United States grew by 3.8 percent in 2016, ecommerce sales grew by 15.1 percent during the same period. Most of that growth is being driven by one company. According to Slice Intelligence, Amazon accounted for 53% of all ecommerce growth in 2016. During 2016, Amazon had almost 37% market share in ecommerce sales; Wal-Mart had a 2.6 percent market share and Target had a 2.7 percent share. Keep in mind, these statistics don’t reflect the potential impact of the Whole Foods acquisition.

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The grocery business is about an $800 billion market in the United States and about $80 billion in Canada. This is one sector of the retail market where Amazon has not achieved a significant beachhead in either country. With the deal to buy Whole Foods, the online retailer will have a small slice of the grocery market (about 1.2% in the United States) in North America, which is dominated by a handful of firms like Walmart (14.2%) and Kroger (7.2%) in the United States and Loblaw Companies, Metro Inc. and Sobeys in Canada.

Last year, the online shopping giant launched Amazon Go, an experimental grocery store with no checkout counter that's currently open to Amazon employees in Seattle. Amazon also opened its first brick-and-mortar book store in Seattle in 2015, and has since expanded to New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The company is said to be evaluating various physical retail experiments that range from futuristic Home-Depot-like stores that incorporate augmented reality to Apple-like electronics boutiques, according to The New York Times. Amazon's acquisition gives the company 431 physical Whole Foods locations to potentially flesh out new concepts.

Amazon’s entry into the grocery market will expose the company to an incredible array of commodities and supply chain variables.

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Amazon launched a new mobile phone, the Fire Phone that could be a true “game changer,” not just for mobile communications or retail sales but also for freight transportation. Let me tell you why.

Unlike other cell phone manufacturers, Amazon is looking for e-commerce business, not mass profits from mobile phone sales. That is the raison d’etre for this phone. Like Apple, they have created an entire ecosystem. Unlike Apple, their ecosystem is not based on selling just computer hardware and software such as iTunes, iPads and iPhones. Amazon wants their hundreds of millions of registered users to buy books, consumer electronics, toys, household supplies and toasters from their massive warehouses of products.

Amazon has a huge inventory of data on consumer preferences and purchasing behavior. It can tailor its marketing messages to specific target markets and then cross-sell them on purchasing other lenses for a camera or tennis clothes to go with the purchase of a new tennis racquet. Amazon’s Firefly technology allows the user to point the phone at an object and then be transferred to an Amazon website that will sell you the product. This is a neat trick (e.g. clever software) that will allow impulse buyers to obtain instant gratification.

Last but not least, the purchase of the Amazon Fire phone provides the user with a free one year subscription to the Amazon Prime $99 a year freight delivery service. So as the user sees a product in a magazine or store, the Fire Phone can take you immediately to a website that will sell you the product and suggest others that you may like. With another click on the Fire, the user can then arrange to have the goods delivered to their home or office within two business days. Clearly the Amazon Fire is trying to create a new e-commerce business model. Like every other new business model, it will take some time to gain traction. If, and more likely when it does, it could dramatically change the world of freight transportation.

The Amazon Fire will allow consumers to “point, shop and ship” almost anywhere, any time. The speed and simplicity will appeal to anyone who prefers to look at a photo and shop without going to a mall or even searching online to find an object. Of course, the Fire Phone has a number of other interesting features like 3-D imaging and an enhanced camera so it can compete with other mobile phones.

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