OPINION: The Open Secret About Autonomous Trucks Is Now Officially In The Open
“We will make automated trucks a true American success story.” – Roger Nielsen, President & C.E.O. of Daimler Trucks North America
Little Rock, Arkansas – It’s the secret that’s been discussed in virtually every trucking company’s boardroom in North America and now it’s officially on the record and in the open.
No more hiding from it. No more obfuscating, denying or insisting on “careful messaging” to truck drivers for fear the labor market will revolt or begin to look for the exit door. Nope, those days are over, and trucking, like the rest of the world, will never be the same again.
Last week in front of a packed audience full of breathless reporters from around the world at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Roger Nielsen, President & C.E.O. of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) made a bold announcement. Nielsen said DTNA was investing more than $500 million in their plans to integrate new automated technologies into its vehicles.
If you’re not sure why the truck maker with the dominant marketshare is making such a move, then you haven’t been paying attention. For those of you too busy driving for a living to pay attention to such industry matters, it’s okay, because Nielsen finally let the proverbial cat out of the bag.
Lost in the ooooh’s and ahhhh’s of the fawning press over the introduction of the new Cascadia, the first SAE Level 2 automated truck in series production in North America, was Nielsen’s statement about what the multi-billion dollar company believes the very near future of trucking is going to look like.
Finally saying publicly what executives have only been willing to say privately for the last decade, Nielsen promised to put “highly automated” Level 4 trucks on U.S. roads within the next 10 years. “We will make automated trucks a true American success story,” he said to the adoring media, who many seemed to be more like fans than actual journalists.
Before Nielsen’s declaration came former DTNA C.E.O., Martin Daum, who now serves as Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, and Daimler Trucks & Buses. It was Daum who actually provided the biggest news. Daum revealed DTNA expects to put “highly automated” Level 4 trucks on U.S. roads this year.
Wait, did he say this year, as in 2019? Indeed he did. No more conjectures by industry analysts predicting autonomous trucks are decades from being on U.S. roadways. Daum could not have been more clear.
In response, one must either believe these are the premature musings of overzealous executives hoping to one day cash in on the unimaginable riches the automated technological revolution promises, or one must come to the conclusion these men know something the rest of us don’t.
The truth is, executives like Nielsen and Daum have known for the last decade this day was coming sooner rather than later and have been privately informing their customers. They just weren’t yet ready to announce to the world, and particularly to their customers’ labor force, that their prized automated technology will certainly threaten many driving jobs (in certain applications) sooner than the so-called experts said.
In a move to ease growing anxiety within their customers’ labor force, DTNA released a carefully messaged statement. In it the company assured, ““These technologies can also enhance the driver experience by making the truck-driving task easier, thereby improving driver comfort and well-being.”
The truck maker and its trucking company customers are hoping professional truckers will accept the driver “comfort” rationale. After all, these technologies are really “driver-assist” functions aimed at improving safety outcomes by eliminating human error, or so they want you to believe.
Make no mistake, what happened last week in Vegas was Nielsen and Daum’s signal to global investors that the company is making the necessary commitment to lead the way in automated driving technology and the time to invest in Daimler is now. However, history will remember it as the moment which officially ushered in the inescapable reality that the new era of autonomous trucking is soon coming to North America.
The above opinion-editorial does not necessarily reflect the views of Transportation Nation Network management or employees.
WATCH DAIMLER PRESSER AT CES2019