Why Driverless Trucks could Create the Need for more Drivers

Michael Watson Ph.D Partner
Read Time: 3 minutes apprx.

There has been a lot of talk about how driverless trucks may reduce the need for drivers and how will our economy replace these 2 million good blue collar jobs.

The same conversation is going on for the larger economy with all the buzz around artificial intelligence.

Lots of smart people and deep thinkers are worrying over the issue, and I don’t have a strong opinion in the debate.

However, I heard an interview with someone recently(1) who compared today’s fears with the fears people had when banks introduced ATMs.  At that time, there was a fear that ATMs would replace all tellers.  What ending up happening is that there are now more tellers.  ATMs changed the economies of scale.  Previously, banks had to be large enough to handle the customers.  But, with ATMs, you could build more and smaller branches.  So, for sure the tellers per location went down, but the total number of locations went up enough to increase the total number of tellers.  It should be pointed out that the tellers also had to do a slightly different job.  And, the customer experience was now much better– it is likely you are now much closer to your bank.

Could all this happen with trucks?  

In a previous article, we talked about how driverless trucks could easily change the design of the supply chain.  With less expensive transportation, you may have many local warehouses and offer more same day delivery and more delivery directly to the customer.

That is, instead of paying drivers to make the long haul from my warehouse in Chicago to my customer’s warehouse in Dallas, I let the driverless truck make that long-haul move to my new local warehouse in Dallas.  From there, I send out a driver to make the local round of deliveries and maybe even directly to my customer’s stores.

In this case, there will be far fewer drivers doing the multi-day long-hauls across the country.  But, I may have many more drivers making local deliveries on short notice.  Like the bank tellers, the driver’s job may change.  Instead of just getting a load from point A to point B, the driver may act more as a face to the company and participate more in sales and customer relations.

This assumes that the last mile is going to be hard to automate— for example if you are Coke and Pepsi, it seems like a long time before a driverless truck shows up at the local supermarket and figure out how to get product onto the right shelves in the store, while picking up competitive information.

It should be interesting to see how all of this shakes out.  But, my guess is that the changing economics will lead to whole new ways to think about your distribution network. And, some of these changes may mean that you use more drivers.


  1. You can find the interview here at the 15:44 mark