Are your service and delivery trucks going to be driving themselves soon? Because….um….the first truckload of beer just got delivered by a robot last week. You heard about it, almost certainly. Otto, the Uber-owned company with the mission of replacing commercial vehicle drivers, actually sort of did it last week, making a 120 mile beer run down a highway in Colorado.
We hear a lot about autonomous cars, but the first real users of the technology will likely be over the road trucks. There is a shortage of experienced drivers, and these trucks are often making relatively boring trips down relatively straight highways, with high-value cargoes.
But let’s say that you (like all of our customers) aren’t running 18 wheelers. Will you be replacing drivers with automated trucks one day? Probably, although it won’t be as straightforward as that. The thing is, your drivers do a lot more than drive. But that single function, holding a steering wheel and controlling a vehicle, will go away one day. My guess is for some industries, within ten years.
There is so much money and so much talent being thrown into autonomous vehicles that it can’t not happen. So far, regulatory authorities in this country are saying favorable things. And of course, there is Uber. Uber is staging a piece of business theater, with lawsuits in multiple localities about whether or not their drivers are in fact employees. I doubt that long term, Uber cares much. Because long-term, they never had any intention of allowing all those vehicles to be driven by actual risky and troublesome humans. Uber’s entire business is a bet on the coming prevalence of completely autonomous vehicles of all sorts.
So what does it mean to your fleet? Not much this year, or next, or the next. But pay attention. Particularly if you are doing in-town delivery (bottled water, for instance), buying or leasing a robot-piloted truck will be a real possibility in only a few years.
The impact to your fleet….insurance, resale, initial cost….will be beyond significant. For some industries, entire business models will change.
President - Commerce Lease Group