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Will the 40’ ISO Container Survive?

There are, quite literally, billions and billions of dollars invested in the 40’ ISO global container industry.  This year alone, in the midst of the worst economic meltdown since the 1930’s, the liner shipping industry has new ships coming on line that were expected to increase worldwide 40’ cellular capacity by over 15%.  This is in addition to over 20 million TEU of containers and several million container chassis worldwide.

So why, with this enormous investment of capital and systems, would the container line shipping companies have an interest in changing to the 45’ Geo, or any other special size for that matter?  Truth be told…they don’t, and the economic logic for their “institutional resistance” is clear and evident.

Nevertheless, “change and opportunity” are the roots of all great new commercial ventures.  In this case, the “change” is the move by all major shipping nations away from the original 1966 40’ standard for domestic trucking, into various larger sized trailers (ie, 53’ in the US and 13.6 m in the EU).  The “opportunity” is the urgent and competitive need for international shippers to find new areas of increased productivity and reduced cost in their global supply chains.  To this opportunity, the Geo offers the long lost potential for dramatic improvements in cubic cargo capacity (especially to palletized shippers), significant reductions in the cost of in-transit handling and cargo loss, and faster door-to-door transit times.

From the ship lines’ perspective, no change may be the best change.  But with the right mindset, a gradual and accommodating change could be both a customer marketing and profit making opportunity.  The fact is that the 40’ and 45’ marine containers are now on borrowed time. In the meanwhile, on-deck corner fittings can be easily and inexpensively moved to efficiently handle the GeoContainer on any 40’ cellular container ship, and spreaders in all major ports can now pick at the 45’ Geo locations.

As 50 years of intermodal history has repeatedly shown, shipper needs compel change and create opportunity.  The marginalized 40’ and 45’ ISO containers will hang on for low value moves…but the 45’ Geo will thrive!