Ricardo Rodriguez
When Humans Drive Trucks

You hear it all the time: Trucking is the economy’s backbone. Considering recent announcements from Uber, Tesla, Nikola, etc., it seems that the way trucks are driven could affect the future of many jobs.

Soon computers and robots could do most of the work that humans now do. Or, at least that is what some studies show.

For the last 25 years I have been hearing that we don’t have enough drivers in our industry. So these “new” truck manufacturers are telling us that they have a solution. “Each self-driving truck could do the work of two of today’s trucks because they can operate at all hours of day and night,” says Eric Berdini, Uber Freight’s top in command. But, he added, “the reality is that the transition to any kind of self-driving truck future is quite a ways away. But in terms of how we think about that future, we actually do see a future where jobs don’t get impacted in the way that people expect them to. We wouldn’t be doing Uber Freight, which is a human-driven product, if we didn’t think that there was a responsible way for the future to look with humans and self-driving trucks.”

I agree that we are far away from having networks of driverless trucks operating in our streets and highways. Consider the record truck sales from the last few months. That “day” now seems even further away. Instead, optimization of current technologies, better ergonomics and better (lower) fuel consumption, is what we will see in the next 10 years. In fact, we have the technology to get over the 10 MPG hurdle. Every couple of years the performance improvements are worth the higher upfront cost that the customer pays.

But what are we going to do with the older, less efficient trucks? What should we do about $25,000 overhauled jobs? Or $17,000 transmission repairs? With three years of strong sales now, we need to start thinking about the used truck market in 2020-21. And, also about the new emission regulations that will affect the ports then. Today, a low mile running truck is worth something, and a high miler is not. And Copart is having its day, with so many non-running trucks. I am getting calls from banks to double check truck pricing because they can’t make sense of it either. Business could be booming today, but if we look at the fundamentals in terms of truck volume and values, things are off. We are in a “human-driven” used-truck world. I don’t believe that a computer can come up with a solution to this. Do you ?

Ricardo R. Long

Re-marketing and Asset Management,

Lookout Valley Equipment Sales, TN