Traditional Trucking to Autonomous Trucking - The Road to Autonomy

Traditional Trucking to Autonomous Trucking

Jim Mullen, Founder & President, Mullen Consulting joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss how traditional trucking and autonomous trucking compliment each other and their combined benefits to the U.S. freight network.

The conversation begins with Jim discussing what is causing the decline rates in spot truckload rates, which are down 57.3% year-over-year.

It is clearly a supply and demand issue right now.

– Jim Mullen

During the 2008 financial crisis, the S&P Transportation Select Industry Index feel from a high of $1,998.20 on February 20, 2007 to a low of $626.27 on March 9, 2009, a 68.63% decline. It took the Index four years until February 19, 2013 to regain the losses from the economic crisis. If history is to repeat itself and we enter into a potential recession, you could see further downward pressure on spot truckload rates. With new entrants in the market and deteriorating market economic conditions, the market currently remains strained.

With all these new entrants who are really just trying to stay afloat, they are going to take freight they ought not be taking or at least be taking freight at rates they ought not be taking. Until you expunge the marketplace of that lack of discipline with those types of folks that are quote desperate you will continue to see that down kind of pressure.

– Jim Mullen

Taking an holistic approach to the trucking industry as a whole, it is a very vibrant industry. It is a healthy industry that is preparing for a future with autonomous trucks. It is an industry that is working in tandem with their shippers and customers to ensure that it is a win-win when the economic conditions stabilize and return to growth.

When economic conditions stabilize and there is a return to growth, autonomous trucks will be scaling in a regulatory environment that is made up of patchwork of State laws as there is currently no national framework for autonomous trucks.

Additionally there is no plan for a national framework for autonomous trucks at this time. Is it even necessary? Unsure at the moment, as soon autonomous trucks will be able to operate legally from Arizona to Florida on the 1-10, when Mississippi comes online with their new autonomous trucking regulations.

No matter the regulations, the industry is going to have to develop public trust in each and every State that they operate. This is something that the autonomous trucking industry takes seriously and Jim shares his thoughts from his time at FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) where he served as Acting Administrator on the importance of public trust in autonomous trucks.

While trust has to be developed with the public, the traditional trucking industry is approaching autonomous trucking in a mixed fashion.

There is a mixed bag. Some of the motor carriers are much more aggressive and more involved in looking at how autonomy is going to change their freight networks. But if you look at the blue-chip motor carriers, I say that they are predominantly fully engaged on how autonomy is going to change their business model and freight network.

– Jim Mullen

To achieve commercial Level 4 autonomy in with the autonomous trucking industry, it ill take partnerships. Torc has a partnership with Daimler and Waymo has a partnership with J.B. Hunt. Then there are the Truck OEMs that are exploring transportation as a service. Could transportation as a service be how autonomous trucks are deployed in the future? Possibly. Then there are the autonomous trucking companies who are unable to secure an OEM deal, could they potentially explore licensing deals? Possibly.

The future for how autonomous trucks will roll out has yet to be written. It will be interesting to watch how it all plays out and who emerges victoriously.

Wrapping up the conversation, Jim shares his thoughts on the future of the trucking industy.

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Recorded on Tuesday, January 24, 2023