Rising oil prices create rocky road for Chinese truckers

As gas prices continue rising, truck drivers are struggling to squeeze out the last drops of value from an already battered freight industry.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP



Domestic refined oil prices ushered in the 10th increase this year, with the cost of domestic No. 92 gasoline exceeding 9 yuan per liter and No. 95 gasoline entering the range of 10 yuan per liter in many areas.

This has put significant pressure on truck drivers who depend on oil to make a living. If it goes too high, they can barely make ends meet.

ZHANG, a trucker, told Jiemian News that though the oil price keeps rising, the freight cost has hardly changed. The driver has just delivered more than 30 tons of goods from Hefei to Wuxi (an over 300 km drive),  making about 400 yuan (US$60) in profit.

After the Spring Festival this year, many truck drivers chose to temporarily stop or reduce deliveries due to the Covid outbreak in many cities. Recently, drivers have returned to work as Covid has eased in most areas. But while oil prices have risen to record highs, freight costs have barely increased as volumes have not fully recovered.

“Though freight prices are still low, having an income is better than just staying at home,” Zhang said.

Eighty-three percent of truck drivers in China are self-employed, making them the group most immediately affected by rising oil prices.

Large express delivery companies like ZTO Express have seen an 8.5 percent increase in the price of a single ticket for their express deliveries, almost entirely down to skyrocketing oil prices.

Some fleets use trucks from brands such as Volvo, which are more expensive but consume less fuel. In May, 1,825 new-energy heavy trucks were sold, up 63 percent month-on-month and nearly four-fold year-on-year. However, the proportion of new-energy vehicles in total truck sales is still very low.

More and more new-energy freight vehicles will be used in the coming years, but it is only large logistic companies that are trying to build the new fleets. Few individual drivers are involved in the transition because cost barriers, such as a large initial outlay, new batteries, charging and maintenance, invariably price them out of the market.