Autonomous technology encompassed 70% of the funding invested in auto tech startups in 2018. Daimler, TuSimple, and Udelv announced big plans for autonomous commercial vehicle rollouts in the coming years. And, Embark Trucks’ autonomous trucks are already running daily loads for a handful of shippers, including Electrolux. How might this emerging technology impact the transportation sector in the near future? Evans President Ryan Keepman talks about the impact of autonomous vehicles on transportation.
[begin video transcript]
Hi, I’m Ryan Keepman, president at Evans Transportation.
When will we start to see an impact from autonomous vehicles?
Autonomous commercial vehicles are, in my opinion, well on their way to becoming — if not the norm — then a norm in our industry. But, we still have a ways to go [before we see a significant impact].
I recently rode, not in mine, but in somebody else’s Tesla, and it was two years old, and I couldn't believe how far that technology was two years ago. I have not ridden in a new one, but it's obvious that these companies — through AI and through a lot of different methodologies — are figuring out how to create these vehicles that will shape our our industry. Now, today? No, but is it something we need to think about? Yes.
Will autonomous vehicles have an impact on capacity?
I think the drivers of capacity will be more economically driven or GDP driven vs. autonomous vehicles having a tie to it. Might there be a knee-jerk reaction from a population or a younger generation of potential truck drivers to think that that job won't exist? Possibly. But I don't think that it will immediately impact the current capacity crunch or have any sort of driving affect to it.
How should smaller shippers prepare for autonomous vehicles?
I think the smaller shippers should think about what they can control. So, if I'm a shipper, and transportation is a big percentage of my cost of sales, I'm looking at how do I become the most desirable shipper in the industry, where carriers are knocking on my door and 3PLs are knocking on my door to do business with us because they want our freight. It’s packaged well. We have good workers that are putting the freight on the trucks. We have flexible times. We’ll make a lot of adjustments to make the carrier's life less demanding. And, it's a reality that I think most shippers should focus on.
Will autonomous vehicle technology become ubiquitous?
It will be a slow evolution with something this disruptive. But, it will happen over time to certain segments of transportation — not the pick-up to final delivery for all modes.
These vehicles are being talked about. [Carriers] are strategically looking at how how they will invest in them, what makes sense for their particular business and how it will show a return. Right? At the end of the day, it is business, and it has to have some value to it. There aren't the rebates for them like there are for solar or for lighting in some different companies — at least, that I'm aware of. But I do believe that there is a lot of discussion going on [about implementing autonomous vehicles] because there has to be. It's happening, and we're seeing it.