GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study from the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University says automation should cost the trucking industry hundreds of thousands of jobs, but several factors will dictate when and where those losses will be felt first.
Overall, researchers found that up to 94% of all operator hours could ultimately be impacted by automated trucking technology, but Michigan won’t be the first market affected. Currently, technology testing is done almost exclusively in Sun Belt states like Florida, Arizona and Texas. Developers are working to ensure the technology can be reliable enough to drive in snow or hail, limiting when automated trucking could come to Michigan.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are approximately 2 million heavy truck drivers in the United States. The study, published last month in the journal “Humanities and Social Sciences Communications,” believes automation won’t cost as many jobs as some feared.
“Some people worry that all or most of the million or more trucking jobs might be lost,” study co-author Parth Vaishnav said. “In terms of numbers, our analysis showed that automation could eliminate a few hundred thousand jobs, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that for most people these are fleeting, poorly paid and unpleasant jobs.”
The study estimates truck stops could be hit harder than truck drivers.
“We think that it is possible that the number of operator hours lost at truck stops, because automated trucks will have no drivers who need to be served at truck stops, could be compensated by new employment opportunities at transfer hub ports,” Vaishnav said.
At least one West Michigan trucking company isn’t worried about automation. Antonio Bravada, the CEO of 131 Trucking, based out of Kalamazoo, says it’s not a short-term concern.
“You talk about the Hills of Tennessee and all of the mountains that these things have to go and climb. And how long does it take to recharge? And a lot of these customers want things delivered on a certain time basis and you’re talking a 700-something mile load, which a driver would be able to do in one of their driving shifts. Can the (automated truck) go that distance in one day’s shift and be able to charge and keep going?” Bravada told News 8.
He believes even with the latest developments, the technology isn’t close to taking over the industry.
“You look at companies like Tesla and Rivian, the new Hummer, things along those lines. They’ve come a very long way. But the new Tesla can come out and they said that was 600 and something miles as a total charge, which is very good, but it’s also not carrying 44,000 pounds behind it,” Bravada said.
Bravada thinks short-haul trips will be impacted before the big rigs.
“I just don’t think it’s going to happen in the next 20 years. I think you’ll have automated trucks. I just don’t think they’re going to be the majority of the industry,” Bravada said.