Autonomous Trucking Likely in Four Stages, Consulting Firm Says

December 27, 2018 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Autonomous trucking likely will occur in four waves, with each stage reducing operating costs for motor carriers, according to a new report from business consultant McKinsey & Co.

Billions of dollars possibly can be saved along the trucking value chain, McKinsey said in the report, issued this month. It builds on other work the firm has done involving trucking, including a September report that projected a 40 percent increase in trucking profits by 2030.

With full autonomy, operating costs would decline by about 40 percent. That would save U.S. for-hire trucking companies $85 billion to $125 billion within 10 to 20 years of full autonomous adoption. McKinsey did not suggest how those savings would be divided among motor carriers and the supply chain.

As automation develops, the cost of logistics might fall up to 40 percent because the supply chain would be able to flex with peak demand and take on heavier cargo. The report singled out XPO Logistics’ “warehouse of the future,” which includes collaborative robots that work alongside humans and indoor drones.

On the road, new routing powered by connectivity and analytics could produce efficiencies of up to 25 percent, the report said.

In a 2016 report, McKinsey predicted that a third of new heavy-duty trucks would run semi-autonomously by 2025.


In its latest study, McKinsey described platooning as the first stage of autonomy. Platooning digitally connects two or more trucks through automatic braking and a dedicated radio frequency that allows the vehicles to “talk” to each other.

Peloton Technology is one of the companies testing truck platooning, part of the first wave of autonomous trucking. (Photo: Peloton)

Several truck makers are testing platooning, which can save fuel though improved aerodynamic efficiency gained from traveling close together. Platooning convoys, which initially would have a driver in each vehicle, could reduce total cost of ownership by 1 percent, McKinsey said.

In five to seven years, platooning with a driver in only the lead truck could save the industry 10 percent in operating costs. The U.S. Army next year will test driverless platooning on two U.S. bases.

McKinsey predicts that within seven to 10 years, single, unmanned trucks will operate throughout the interstate highway system and other, geographically fenced areas depending on weather and visibility conditions. Infrastructure allowing trucks to communicate with traffic lights will be key to making this happen.

Drivers would meet the trucks at interstate exits and drive them to their final destinations, navigating city streets, local traffic, parking lots and loading docks. This constrained autonomy would create total savings of 20 percent, McKinsey said.

Bosch USA and Nikola Motors, which are partnering to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cell semi-tractors, envision designated interstates for long-haul trucking.

Full autonomy

Ultimately, McKinsey sees fully autonomous trucks at scale without drivers from loading to delivery. The cost savings would be about 45 percent. But McKinsey said it would take “many years” for an autonomous fleet to replace the hundreds of thousands of conventionally driven trucks on the road.

Daimler Trucks North America is expected to show its next development in fully autonomous trucks in early January in Las Vegas.

While automated trucks would cut operating costs, trucking companies would spend more to buy them. That could shrink the national fleet through consolidation while also reducing the industry’s shortage of drivers, McKinsey said.

The American Trucking Associations says the industry is short more than 50,000 drivers, a number that could swell to 174,000 by 2026 if nothing is done to attract new drivers.

Read Next: Trucking, Freight Push Drive to Autonomous Vehicles

2 Responses

  1. Yote Anders

    what happens when those trucks get old and breakdown causing people to die on the highway? Who will be accountable? If people are afraid of trucks now, how much scarier a truck with no driver that can be hacked or breakdown and do so much more damage than just a humans stupid mistake?
    According to us transportation statistics, there are 4,616,568 transportation jobs, accounting for nearly 4% of the population. When those 4 million people no longer have jobs, there won’t be a driver shortage because no one will be buying anything.

    • thomas jefferies

      You are so correct my TEN MILLION MILES LIFE TIME tells me if any of this comes to be it will be one GRAND CLUSTER F&%#;. If so it does make sense that this AI may work out for military(I mean who want’s to get shot or blown up in a truck). It is no wonder that they want drivers sitting around some truck stop waiting for some truck to come flying off of the freeway maybe. I think FMCSA will have something to say soon not to mention the TV. lawyers and Insurance company’s.


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