Transporation as a Service, or TaS, could radically disrupt our society in the near future, a new study says. 
 - Image Mercedes-Benz

Transporation as a Service, or TaS, could radically disrupt our society in the near future, a new study says. 

Image Mercedes-Benz

The future can be notoriously hard to predict. Even the best-read experts can do no more than offer educated guesses when trying to predict what life will be like just a few years from now. And that exercise gets harder still when you’re on the cusp of a technological revolution as we are today. But there is one thing you can bet on when transformative new tech is about to come on the scene: disruption on a massive scale.

I talk a lot about emerging tech, and usually, when the topic is trucking, drivers are cited as the most likely victims if and when autonomous vehicles reach a tipping point in our society. But a recent study by a group of futurists says that potential for disruption is far greater than just driving jobs.

RethinkX is a think tank made up of forward-looking technology experts. Its recent study, Disruption. Implications. Choices, paints an intense picture of massive social change, coming a lot sooner than most of us envision.

It’s important to note that the study focuses on the passenger car side of the automotive industry (although the group is reportedly working on another study that will specifically address disruption in trucking). But their findings are nothing short of alarming.

The study focuses on a trend we’re already seeing pick up steam: transportation as a service (TaaS), which is a fundamental shift away from the personal ownership of vehicles to a model where people simply pay a subscription or single-use fees to have autonomous vehicles ferry them to wherever they need to go. Instead of having a car sitting in your garage, you’ll use an app on your phone to summon an autonomous vehicle when you need to go somewhere – much like hailing Uber or Lyft today, but without the driver. And, the study says, people will want to do that, because eliminating vehicle ownership from their lives would equate to putting $5,600 a year back in their pockets per vehicle, as car payments, and paying for things like insurance, gas, oil, and tires disappears. That’s about the same as getting a 10% raise, the study notes.

But, the study says, if Millennials embrace TaaS with any degree of enthusiasm, the consequences for the automobile industry are nothing less than dire: The ReThinkX futurists believe the new car market in the U.S. could be gutted by as much as 70% – with collateral damage hitting dealerships, the insurance industry and – yes – driving jobs of all sorts, from cabbies up to gear-jammers. Assuming a loss of 5 million driving jobs at an average annual salary of $40,000, we’re talking about a $200 billion hole being blown in the economy, coupled with any meaningful revenue from gasoline taxes, which will take a $50 billion annual hit in this scenario. These outcomes will likely require legislative action to manage, the report dryly notes.

And that’s just the start of the bad news. Up to 100 million used vehicles could suddenly become worthless – or even worse than worthless: You may very well have to pay someone to come and haul your old “manually operated” vehicles away and dispose of them.

There is good news, however. While the report barely touches on the trucking industry, it doesn’t begin to suggest that transportation or hauling freight is going to go away. Far from it. In fact, in all the chaos imagined by the ReThinkX futurists, they also note that simply taking the cost of vehicle ownership away from a huge portion of the population would mainline $1 trillion a year directly into consumer markets – a figure that the study says would be the largest boom in consumer spending in history. And I don’t have to tell you what that means for trucking fleets, especially in a time where last-mile and home delivery are expected.

The study predicts the decline of car dealerships by as early as 2024, with autonomous vehicles in widespread use and resulting in various disruptive consequences by 2030. That seems a bit soon for me. But, if you add just a few years to those numbers, say adjust everything up by about five years, then I don’t know. Given that once technological changes begin to be accepted, the adoption rate will skyrocket at an exponential rate, that’s certainly possible.

Will all of these things happen? Yes and no. Maybe. But one thing is for certain: Disruption – and new business opportunities – are coming. A lot sooner than most of us expect.

Related: Future Tech Gets Trashed

Author

Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

View Bio
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