Don’t expect autonomous trucking to displace millions of drivers in the near future, conclusions Alexander Potter, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co., a recent report to investors about advanced technology and commercial vehicles.
AS reported by Truck.com, He added that the industry should expect some form of electrification to be part of every new commercial vehicle drivetrain within a decade.
“Arguably, it’s irrelevant to talk about whether robot drivers will replace humans,” Potter wrote. “Many drivers cannot be displaced. They do much more than just drive.”
Instead of eliminating drivers, automation should be used to ease the driver shortage, he said. But if drivers can’t be removed, then full autonomy offers less compelling savings.
One potential application is platooning, in which digitally tethered trucks travel closely together to reduce drag and save fuel, Potter said. Other potential savings from automation could come from its use in supporting less skilled and lower paid workers to drive quasi-automated segments, Potter said.
It could also be used to extend driving time limits. Allowing drivers more hours would improve freight productivity.
“Workers will be needed no matter what, and automation can help address this problem,” Potter said.
While Potter doesn’t see a massive replacement of truckers with robots, he does predict significant change in the industry – especially in drivetrain technology.
“We remain believers in the superiority of electric drivetrains,” Potter said.
While fuel economy for trucks, even in the heaviest Class 8 weight segment, continues to improve and is approaching 8 mpg, fleets are not reaping all of the expected savings, Potter said. Fuel costs drop, but the savings are partly offset by spending on maintenance for emissions systems. Moreover, problems with emissions treatment components frequently take vehicles out of service, and that costs fleets money.
This is all happening at time when the cost of diesel engines is rising while battery prices are falling, Potter wrote.
“And even if truck makers don’t believe in electric vehicles, regulation is forcing their hand,” he said. “If urban areas become ‘zero emission’ zones, nobody can afford to ignore electric trucks.”
Battery costs are declining so quickly that, if you want storage, it’s cheaper to buy new. Luckily, as recycling processes mature, fleets shouldn’t have to pay so much for disposal, Potter said.
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