While the conversation around autonomous vehicles (AVs) is largely focused on passenger vehicles and the impact on our daily commutes, the reality is that AVs are anticipated to change the trucking industry and distribution channels much sooner. By reducing distribution cost and time, the transition to autonomous long-haul trucks may well disrupt industrial land use patterns and improve the consumer experience of obtaining goods from both across town and across country. This was the topic of a recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel discussion I moderated, which proved to be a thought-provoking conversation and an eye-opening overview of how far ahead the trucking and logistics industry is in the race towards the autonomous future.

Joining me were three leading voices on the topic: Reilly Brennan, a Partner with Trucks Venture Capital and Instructor at Stanford University, Dan Letter Managing Director of Capital Deployment with Prologis, and Shad Laws, VP of Advanced Development & Product Planning at Peloton Technology. Much of the discussion centered on the fact that ‘automated’ is not synonymous with the word ‘driverless.’ In fact, in the case of Peloton, a driver is more important than ever, in order to operate a more sophisticated truck technology platform that enables platooning. The real cost savings in automated trucking comes from higher productivity and lower fuel costs. And according to Brennan, the sheer number of opportunities for automation in trucking vastly outweighs the number in other modes, given its complex systems. This is also contributing to a more rapid pace of innovation and investment.

Of course, the adoption and deployment of autonomous trucking technology is being accelerated by the rise in e-commerce and the associated complex logistic systems. Industrial real estate owners, like Prologis, are designing their buildings to accommodate this trend – even pursuing multi-story industrial buildings in markets like Seattle and San Francisco.

To that end, the staff at JLL is carefully studying the potential impact of automated logistics on the commercial real estate industry.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at our new infographic below that sheds light on where this space is headed.