Every company from Google, Delphi, Mercedes, Tesla, Nissan, Apple, to most recently Uber has been working on bringing the first self-driving car to market. Already, self-driving cars have made the trip from New York to San Francisco. Google cars without steering wheels or brakes have cruised the streets of Silicon Valley. And as recently as last month, Tesla brought the first autopilot feature to consumers.
What does this mean for the future of fleet and the mobile worker?
For many mobile workers, the self-driving car could very well be an existential threat. But for others and for fleet as a whole, it could not only be a net positive, but a game changer that will make the five biggest challenges of corporate fleets a thing of the past.
The robot cars are taking our jobs! Sounds like science fiction, more Decepticon than reality, but it might not be so far from the truth.
Many foresee enormous benefits from the transformation of our vehicles: Morgan Stanley expects “full automation” by 2020, leading to the creation of $1.3 trillion in value in the United States and $5.6 trillion globally. Their report states that the benefit will be distributed beyond the auto industry to cities, governments, and municipalities; customers themselves; and society as a whole. 1.3 trillion is a powerful number, but so is 3 million – the risk of 3 million lost jobs, that is.
In 30 states, truck driving is the most common profession, totaling about 1.6 million U.S. employees in 2014. Not to mention the nation’s 180,000 cabbies, over 160,000 on-demand drivers, 500,000 school bus drivers, 160,000 transit bus drivers and 800,000 delivery drivers, all of whom make their living in a vehicle which could someday “replace them”. For some, these types of jobs represent a bridge into the American economy. What impact(s) will self-driving vehicles have on these opportunities?
There are many who argue that new jobs will be created to replace those lost through increased productivity (the phenomenon is compared to when the car replaced the horse and buggy), but if this argument falls flat, is this risk – this act of “creative destruction” – worth the reward?
For America’s corporate fleets, it just might be.
The five biggest challenges to fleets today are: driver safety, cost reduction initiatives, fuel price volatility, green fleet initiatives, and driver productivity. The self-driving car stands poised to make these challenges obsolete.
Traffic accidents cost the U.S. $871 billion per year, and a large burden of that falls on fleets and mobile workers. In 2014, an average of 20% of fleet vehicles were in an accident, and the average accident cost fleets $16,000. At times, these costs skyrocketed much, much higher – as high as $23,000,000 in the case of a wrongful death lawsuit.
In the six years that Google’s fleet of 32 self-driving cars have been on the road, only 16 accidents have occurred – all of them caused by humans. This is not surprising, as studies show that 90% of all driving accidents are caused by human error. Mckinsey & Co. recently estimated that driverless cars will reduce the number of automotive crashes by 90%.
This immense reduction in automotive crashes will not only lead to huge cost reduction for corporate fleets, but will be a life saver for the mobile worker as it drives down the 1.2 million lives lost every year in vehicle accidents worldwide.
Once your car becomes autonomous it most likely won’t be your car anymore, which could be a good thing both for mobile workers and for society. According to Morgan Stanley, car owners spend only 4% of their time utilizing their cars, yet owning a car carries a price tag of about $9,000 per year. Behind home ownership, this is likely the second most expensive asset we buy—and most of our day, we don’t need it.
To optimize the use of self-driving cars and our hard-earned dollars, we are going to need to cut the umbilical cord and head towards automotive adulthood, where cars will be a shared resource. In addition to protecting our wallets, less people owning cars and more cars being shared will have a powerful impact on society.
Fewer and more efficient vehicles will result in a lighter environmental burden and a lighter burden on our gas tanks. With car ownership dropping as much as 43 percent, we can expect the cost of the billions of gallons of gasoline guzzled by US drivers to drop dramatically as well. Research projects that this could decrease vehicle emissions by up to 90%.
Further, taking the human factor out of our daily drive will drastically reduce traffic through Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Internet (V2I) communication and coordination. This will drive efficiency and route optimization, both of which should decrease fuel costs. By greatly reducing or eliminating traffic altogether, we will drastically decrease the burden of our transportation system on the environment.
Reducing fuel costs and protecting the environment is a win-win for fleet managers. Self-driving cars will help create greener fleets nationwide while making our wallets a little greener too.
Mobile technology has already changed the way we work. Working remotely has become vastly easier and an expectation for many. Yet, working during your drive or commute has continued to be difficult, often hazardous, and even illegal. Emailing, taking business calls on the road, texting, even reading documents distracts drivers, causes accidents, and costs you and your employer money.
But, what happens when we no longer need to keep our eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel?
What if Google’s self-driving car – with no steering wheel and no brakes – wins the self-driving car arms race? The human element will be taken out of the driving equation, leaving mobile workers free to make calls, text, google, and yes – even work. The driver-less car could fully turn the mobile worker’s vehicle into a mobile office, increasing fleet productivity and improving mobile worker morale – providing flexibility in the length of a work day, and allowing work normally finished at home to be completed on the road.
All-in-all, the jury is still out on the self-driving car and how it will change the lives of mobile workers. For the moment, there are a number of obstacles to the full adoption of the self-driving car – including serious legal, technical, and ethical questions. However, the self-driving car is coming, and it will undoubtedly have a powerful impact on fleet and the mobile workforce.