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Will Trucking Turn Into Man Versus Machine?

It’s a time of upheaval for the trucking industry. The future of trucking is topic number one on the mind of industry insiders. Trucking has changed more in the past ten years than it did in the past 50 years combined, change that’s expected to accelerate.

New entrants are making their way into the trucking market. Sure, it may initially sound absurd to imagine companies with no manufacturing experience entering trucking, but at closer look, is it?

Old Game, New Players

There’s a monumental shift happening in the automotive industry. Unexpected new players are getting ready to enter the market in a big way.

It’s been known for years that Google is preparing driver-less cars. The rumor mill is abuzz with talk of Apple building a car. Then you’ve got Tesla, which is changing the way we power our cars, and perhaps our homes. And finally, with Amazon talking about delivering their products through drones, how might these technological leaps affect trucking?

Go to any trucking industry meeting and you’ll hear someone grumbling about the burdens of technology. From e-logs, to exhaust treatment systems, to electronic control modules, there’s a lot for manufacturers and motor carriers to think about.

Big Tech and Trucking

It’s true, as we’ve been reporting: technology is changing the face of trucking. The commercial trucks of today are extremely advanced and represent the cutting edge in automotive innovation.

That being said, it’s no secret that for decades the big three car companies and other big industry car and heavy truck manufacturers have been dominant in the vehicle and transportation industries. When high technology represented a basic combustion engine and four wheels, these were the industry juggernauts.

Today, thanks to entrenched bureaucracies, decades of declining research and development budgets, and crippling recessions, the big vehicle manufacturers have lost much of their edge. Business costs and old business models have robbed the heavy vehicle manufacturing industry of the imagination it once relied on to produce truly compelling products.

Though the huge tech companies of today increasingly see traditional manufacturers as ossified and out of touch, truck drivers, carriers and manufacturers still have plenty of life left. Branching into a new industry, no matter the money and resources available, is a risky and not always successful undertaking for any business.

A Technological Revolution

The car and truck manufacturing industry’s concept of developing, marketing and selling consumer and commercial vehicles has been static since the 1950’s. While this model worked great absence rapid technological innovation, it’s been losing steam in today’s rapidly changing society.

Today’s commercial vehicles are evolving, and tech companies understand that the transportation network of tomorrow is going to look completely different from the one of today. How will driver-less cars affect the trucking industry, for instance?

To put it in perspective, consider that truck fleets of today are talking about finding drivers while Amazon debates delivering packages directly to the consumer’s door via drone. As internet sales continue to explode, it’s not too hard to imagine a world where fully transparent, real-time, automated delivery systems are taking trucks off the road. But what would that mean?

Man versus Machine

Large manufacturing and trucking industries provide millions of good paying American jobs. Recent estimates put the number of truckers in the U.S. at 3.5 million. The total number of people employed industry-wide tops 8.7 million jobs.

The market disruption that would come from complete automation would be potentially devastating. For this reason alone it’s more likely these technologies will be phased in over time, and in harmony with the existing system.

Tech companies understand better than anybody else the commerce-altering potential of the systems they’re working on. As they look at our existing transportation technology, they’ll need to make ethical decisions that affect lives, and understand that there’s room enough for everyone in an evolving supply chain.

Even though the technological revolution is already showing itself as a major disruptor in other industries, trucking is firmly in place for now. And though companies like Apple, Google and Amazon don’t appear to be replacing trucks and truck drivers anytime soon, complacency is not the answer. Trucking should prepare for the technological revolution.

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