Autonomously Driving Toward the Future


The sight of a caravan of self-driving trucks making its way across Europe was a first for the public at large, offering a glimpse into the future of commercial transportation.

The trucks, which were made by six of the largest truck manufacturers in the world, traveled across Europe, covering Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the port of Rotterdam—all as part of the European Truck Platooning Challenge. 

In addition to its economic potential, advocates of autonomous trucks say the new technology will make roads cleaner and safer.

Proponents of autonomous vehicles say that “truck platooning,” a system which wirelessly links automated trucks, allowing them to travel in close succession on roads and highways, will increase safety, lower fuel consumption and improve traffic. And as more countries are experimenting with the idea of adopting driverless truck technology, its impact on e-commerce and the global economy will be far-reaching, according to a new report by CBRE Research.

“With the adoption of driverless trucks, the trucking industry will be able to cut its labor costs, shifting its focus toward building technological systems that can meet the demand for goods more efficiently while focusing more on inventory and occupancy costs,” says CBRE Research in its report.

In addition to its economic potential, advocates of autonomous trucks say the new technology will make roads cleaner and safer.

“Truck platooning will ensure cleaner and more efficient transport. Self-driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure,” said Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the Dutch minister of infrastructure and environment, in an interview earlier this year.

The Cost of Moving Goods

In the United States, the attendant costs of transporting goods across the country are often high.

Labor accounts for an estimated 75 percent of the cost to move a full truckload from Los Angeles to New York, notes the report. Additionally, the demand for qualified truckers is growing. There was an estimated shortage of 48,000 truckers in the U.S. in 2015, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). That shortage could grow to 175,000 by 2024.

U.S. federal regulations also limit the daily territory trucks can cover. Truckers are restricted to driving 70 hours a week, limiting them to a maximum of 3,000 miles. By switching to autonomous trucks, the report states that these kinds of regulations will ease, allowing them to cover more territory in more time. It will also help with the demand for more truckers.

“The result will be lower delivery costs for the consumer,” says CBRE Research, adding: “e-commerce sales are likely to increase.”

Elsewhere in the world, many countries in the Asia Pacific region are beginning to experiment with self-driving technology, including Australia, Japan and China. In Australia, mining company Rio Tinto already has two fleets of autonomous trucks in mines in Western Australia. In China, Ford and local partner Changan Automobile conducted a six-day road test of a self-driving car from Chongqing to Beijing, a journey that spanned 1,200 miles.

“While many of these pilot studies have been for the consumer, they can easily be adapted to the industrial transportation market,” says CBRE Research.

Whether consumers will be comfortable sharing the road with autonomous vehicles, however, remains unclear. According to the AAA, 75 percent of U.S. drivers would be afraid to allow an autonomous vehicle to drive itself. A recent accident involving a Tesla Model S in Florida was the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle in the United States (earlier this year there was another fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S in China). Despite these developments, 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020, according to a Business Insider report.

Impact on Warehouse Space

CBRE Research predicts that the timeline of autonomous vehicle technology will have three key stages: First is technological development (the stage that we’re currently in), followed by partial driver substitution and, finally, complete self-driving with widespread adoption of driverless vehicles. 

Autonomous trucking technology will have a considerable impact on the industrial real estate market.

According to the report, the adoption of autonomous trucking technology will have a considerable impact on the industrial real estate market and lower transport costs will reduce the need for more warehouses.

“We expect this to strengthen the already visible trend of warehouse consolidation and increase in scale,” says CBRE Research. This will mean fewer but larger warehouses will be built in remote locations.

Last mile delivery facilities—which move goods from fulfillment centers to their final destinations—will become an increasingly crucial element in the network.

“They will need to be able to receive large (semi-)automated truck convoy and deploy electric city delivery vehicles,” says CBRE Research. This will mean these sites will need extensive battery loading stations and larger courtyards that will permit automatic maneuvering. 

If one thing is for certain, the future of driving technology is already here and it shows no signs of slowing down.


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