To help you understand the driving force behind self-driving trucks and cars, and what we expect to happen in the future, the highly experienced Kiplinger Letter team will keep you up to date with the latest developments and forecasts (Get a free copy of The Kiplinger Letter or subscribe). You’ll get the latest news first by subscribing, but we’ll post many (but not all) forecasts a few days later online. Here’s the latest…
Self-driving trucks are slowly rolling down the road, mostly on highways in Texas and the Southwest, with a human driver on board, standing alongside, or traveling in platoons behind a lead truck driven by a person. Maersk operates Kodiak Robotics trucks between warehouses in Houston and Oklahoma City with a safe driver. Daimler plans to offer the service commercially by 2027. There are several other companies in this space as well, so there will likely be a first-mover advantage that will lead to consolidation between the companies by the end of the decade.
Other existing players in this sector that are likely to be ready to launch in the near future are Aurora Innovation and Gatik, with the latter focusing on short-haul flights. TuSimple was expected to be a direct player, but may shift its focus to China. New entrants include Waabi, Stack AV and Applied Intuition, which bought bankrupt Embark. Waymo Via will focus on taxis and ride-hailing services for now.
The rollout of self-driving trucks will be modest at first. Currently, the technology is more advanced than societal acceptance of self-driving trucks. The American Automobile Association surveyed its members about self-driving vehicles in general, and 68% of them responded that they were afraid of them. California Governor Newsom recently vetoed a bill that would require a safe driver in all self-driving trucks.
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The industry will need to build a strong safety record to convince the public, insurers and regulators that broader adoption is appropriate. Companies will also need to provide assurances about cybersecurity risks. Until that happens, self-driving trucks will need safe drivers or will be limited to interstate travel only, where a platoon operates behind a truck driven by a person. This means that more highway transportation hubs will be needed, where self-driving trucks can pick up a driver or switch with manned trucks.
Look for more manufacturers that offer a fee-for-service rather than a purchase, like what John Deere is doing with its self-driving tractors. Not to mention how self-driving trucks will exacerbate labor conflict. Port workers’ unions are already resisting automation, and truck drivers will face the same problem.
These forecasts first appeared in The Kiplinger Letter, which has been in publication since 1923 and is a collection of brief weekly forecasts on business and economic trends, plus what to expect from Washington, to help you understand what’s coming to make the most of your investments and money. Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Letter.