A (not so) short history of auto transport technology (Part 2)

By David Insley

By the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web was making data precise, up-to-date and shareable. The auto transport industry was poised for a change.

The emergence of the internet

Along came companies like Central Dispatch to create online exchanges where brokers and carriers could come together. It’s fair to think of this as the second transformative era in auto transport technology. The first was computerized spreadsheets.

Online market load boards ushered in a major innovation and really allowed car hauling companies to expand—especially on the broker side. It became faster, easier and less expensive to have your own brokerage business and begin estimating car-hauling loads. Carriers liked it because anything not contracted out to a private carrier would now be up for grabs—and essentially on one exchange.

With a full list of loads presented to the carrier, the playing field was leveled and a fair competition for loads was now possible. Additionally, this meant dispatchers could now not only select loads they liked for immediate transport, they could also more easily plan a series of trips over the course of the next several days for their fleet of drivers, or for themselves if they were owner operators.

Suboptimal transformation

Ultimately, these types of load boards could take you only so far.

Beyond the (very basic) digital bells and whistles, there was something strikingly analog—and clearly inefficient—about the user experience. In particular, dispatchers and brokers still had to pick up the phone to negotiate details—most notably, the final cost of moving the load. And this wasted precious time. The phrase “time is money” is never more apt than in the auto transport industry, and when brokers, dispatchers and owner operators can’t connect seamlessly they all lose money and drain resources.

Central Dispatch screen shot in 2019.

Anecdotal evidence would also suggest that in pragmatic terms, Central Dispatch’s load board tends to favor brokers at the expense of carriers. This was/is due to several factors. First, many new players entered the business on the broker side eager to make a quick buck. Translation: Numerous fly-by-night brokers emerged and began posting loads at ridiculously low rates and frequently appearing and disappearing under different names. This created volatility and distrust, and understandably angered many reputable carriers and owner operators.

At the same time, loads were also frequently double posted by multiple brokers (a practice that continues to this day), resulting in loads whose legitimacy could not be verified. Was that load from Indianapolis to West Palm Beach, Florida, still up for grabs? Efforts trying to contact brokers regarding loads often yielded slow responses. The lack of transparency was unsettling.

If that wasn’t enough, people were frequently complaining about how the site itself was slow, there wasn’t enough detailed information and that the rating system didn’t provide a true barometer of company performance. The industry exhaled and waited for the next innovation.

The app era

Technological innovation continues to play a major role today in all corners of the auto transport industry. In a hyper-connected world that’s continually accelerating, it’s logical to presume that a full suite of digital options have been widely adopted by the shipper, broker, carrier, dispatcher and owner operator. That assumption would only be half true. Web-based platforms and applications are here—and some are transforming the way cars are shipped—but many products still need to be recalibrated to deliver time-saving automation value and then smartly disseminated throughout the car-hauling universe to truly provide the transformations intended.

Two important innovations

#1 Machine-learning technology:

An advanced digital pricing tool for shippers and brokers that could instantly and accurately summon forth reliable quotes for any type of load must have seemed like a dreamy fairytale as recently as five years ago. But the dream has been made tangible. Leveraging the unerring efficacy of a statistician and the know-how of a relentless team of industry experts, Ship.Cars has developed the Calcatron car shipping calculator. Calcatron is that rare piece of next-generation technology (courtesy the AI breakthroughs that underpin machine learning) that is absolutely essential to maximizing profit margins and setting carrier pay in a fair yet nuanced way.

Sure, there were viable methods to calculate the cost of moving loads before Calcatron came along, but they were inconsistent, improperly weighted and frequently failed to include a full accounting of relevant data that typically determines load price—not just what the market will bear but what will move that load quickly within a prime digital marketplace. Calcatron has changed all that.

Calcatron pricing engine by Ship.Cars creates instant quotes that help move vehicles quickly.

Ship.Cars Calcatron: the industry-leading rate engine


#2 Leveraging GPS:

Plain and simple, this technology—originally developed by the military—has been used in a plethora of industries by a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies: Uber, Lyft, GM, Apple and Google, to name a few. Auto transport also makes use of those global positioning satellites to offer geotagging capabilities that can provide foolproof ways to verify and display vehicle condition at the time of pick-up and delivery.


Ship.Cars, in particular, has made excellent use of this feature inside of its Driver ePOD delivery app, which typically accompanies thousands of drivers across the nation every day as they move loads and process cars for inspection. By creating an indisputable record of vehicle condition, frivolous fraud claims have been dramatically reduced, saving both carriers and shippers valuable time and money. The process has also become more seamless--a predetermined goal of the app.

ePod driver delivery app inspection feature.

In the very near future, Ship.Cars will be leveraging GPS and other data, such as saved searches, to extend greater opportunities for drivers to add vehicles to their existing load and better optimize truck capacity (and for dispatchers and carrier supervisors, optimize fleet capacity). With the increasing amount of cars being shipped in the contiguous United States these days, no qualified car hauler should run his backhaul empty or at reduced capacity. With just a little flexibility, emerging technology will be able to open up previously ignored inventories to an extensive cross-section of shippers and carriers.

Technology never sleeps

These are just some of the newly evolved enhancements built into mobile apps and platforms that were unimaginable even 10-15 years ago. Digital devices are getting faster and smarter every day and there is virtually no limit to what information can be accessed, valued and leveraged via online transport management systems, driver apps, microservice architecture, etc.

The task remains the same but the tools will always change: A car-hauling man with no plan is in decreasing demand. But a driver with a vision can automate precision and deliver on his mission. That is, as long as the choice is made to select best-in-class technology from advanced solution providers like Ship.Cars.

[Editor's note: If you missed  A (not so) short history of auto transport technology (Part 1) it can be found here.]

Tags: Industry news, Small brokers, Large brokers, Auctions, Dealers, Owner operators, Technology, Innovation

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