Driverless trucks – The future is here Marty

The reality of driverless trucks, appears to be closer than Marty Mcfly’s flying cars in the Back to the Future movie. In April this year, the Dutch city of Rotterdam was the finish line for a fleet of driverless trucks, which started the journey in Stuttgart, Germany. In the United States (US) alone, the trucking industry is worth $700 billion and employs 1.6 million people. Driverless vehicles will have wide spread repercussions and spillovers to other industries (e.g. garages, hotels). Below are a number of areas that driverless truck will positively impact:

Increase utilisation of assets – It is estimated that trucks are only 40-50% utilised in developed markets, with the average truck in the US driving 800 km per day. Driverless trucks have the potential to cover 1400- 1600 km a day, and substantially increase asset utilisation. Increased utilisation will also open the possibility for shared infrastructure, and increased collaboration with other third parties.

Improved safety – In the United States, the Federal Highway Administration FHWA) estimates that 90% of all crashes are caused by drivers. Driverless trucks can travel longer distances and can also travel at a slower speed, than conventional vehicles.

Reduced cost – Around 70-75% of transport cost in the US, is labour cost . Driverless trucks will reduce labour cost and also reduce maintenance and other repair costs (e.g. less accidents).

Reduced distribution centres (DCs) –In the US by law, a truck driver needs to take an 8 hour break a day and not spend more than 11 hours on the road.  Driverless trucks will increase the mileage a truck can cover in a day, and reduce the number of DCs required.

Driver shortages – Companies’ ominchannel strategy (multichannel including ecommerce) and the growth of last-mile logistics, have increased the need for truck drivers in the US; which has led to driver shortages. The average age of a driver in the US is 55 years old, and not getting any younger. With long hours on the road, Millenniums don’t view trucking as a very aspirational career choice.

In the US, currently 8 states allow driverless vehicles. In the early stages, driverless vehicles will likely be limited to interstate highways, making use of a hybrid model (driverless trucks linking up with a driver on some routes). Some analysts predict dedicates driverless lanes. The lack of good infrastructure in African countries, will limit the potential. Marty’s flying cars might have to wait, but drones are increasingly spotted in African skies.