This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

December 6, 2017

Self-Driving Trucks are Here (Part 2)

Last week, we covered Part 1 of the topic of self-driving big rigs, including talking about the Daimler Freightliner Inspiration already being tested in Nevada and how Tesla is competing. This Herman Trend Alert is the second of two parts, talking about this vital topic. You can read part one here.

Driver shortages persist for now
According to a recent release by the ATA, the driver shortfall could reach 50,000 positions by the end of 2017, and if trend continues, by 2026 the shortage will grow to more than 174,000. However, with self-driving trucks and the possibility of pelotons, fewer drivers will be needed in the future. Plus, the job will be much less physically demanding.

Safety is a consideration, too
Safety is a major issue. Can a 40-ton self-driving 18-wheeler really be safe? When you consider that close to 90 percent of truck accidents were caused by human error and computers are not human, the answer is "Yes". Though no system is foolproof, the largest freight carriers have already started to equip their trucks with active safety features like lane control and automatic braking.

Tesla is the recent winner
While Daimler's Freightliner Inspiration is still very much a test truck, just last week Walmart pre-ordered 15 Tesla self-driving electric trucks (10 for its Canadian operations and five for its US operations). Walmart believes it can learn how this technology performs within their supply chain, as well as how it could help them meet some of their long-term sustainability goals, like lowering emissions. Moreover, J. B Hunt Transport Services Inc. has also placed orders for the new Tesla truck.

Remarkable opportunity
Though we are millions of test miles away from self-driving trucks from Daimler, Tesla, or others being in wide use, the advantages are obvious. . .reducing the shortage of drivers, saving money on fuel, lowering emissions, and even reducing the number of accidents. Our forecast is that by 2025, we will see many semi-autonomous trucks on long-haul routes. The future is arriving very quickly.

CORRECTION: Unfortunately, we believed (and reported) that Daimler and Peloton were collaborating. That was not true. Each of the companies had its own project. Both companies were exploring platooning to save fuel by forming an improved aerodynamic profile. We also learned some fascinating additional information: As a result of controlling the truck systems together, companies will realize major savings due to "drafting". Drafting happens when two (or more) vehicles run very close to each other and the fuel savings are substantial. The front vehicle saves 5 percent. The back vehicle saves 10 percent. Finally, in a three-truck caravan, the middle truck actually realizes an impressive 15 percent fuel savings. In addition, using aerodynamic technologies, trucking companies can earn United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) credits for platooning.


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