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Driverless trucks in the Swedish freight transport system

An analysis of future impacts on the transport system and the emerging innovation system

Time: Wed 2021-06-09 10.00

Location:, KTH, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Machine Design

Doctoral student: Albin Engholm , Integrated Transport Research Lab, ITRL

Opponent: PhD Maria Oscott, Triple F

Supervisor: Docent Anna Pernestål, Integrated Transport Research Lab, ITRL; PhD Ida Kristoffersson, VTI Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute

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A large-scale introduction of driverless trucks could start taking place during the next decade. While this could bring several economic benefits for freight transport actors and society, it may also change the freight transport system and exacerbate the negative effects of road transport. This thesis aims to increase the understanding of how an introduction of driverless trucks could materialize and impact the freight transport system in Sweden. Two overarching issues are addressed. The first is how freight transport patterns will change due to the impacts of driverless trucks on road transport supply. This is addressed in Paper 1 and Paper 2. The second issue, which is studied in Paper 3, is what factors are shaping the ongoing development towards an introduction of driverless trucks in Sweden. In Paper 1, the impact of driverless trucks on the costs for long-distance road freight transport is studied through a total cost of ownership analysis which shows that driverless trucks could enable cost reductions of around 30%-40% per ton-kilometer. A key determinant of the cost reduction is to what extent reduced driver costs will be offset by other forms of human labor that may be required for driverless truck operations. Other factors, including changes to the truck acquisition cost, have marginal importance. The cost-saving potential provides a strong motivation for freight transport actors to develop and adopt driverless trucks. In Paper 2, the impacts of driverless trucks on road transport demand, utilization of different truck types, modal split, and total logistics costs are studied by using the Swedish national freight transport model Samgods. Two scenario types are studied, one in which driverless trucks substitute manually driven trucks and one where driverless trucks capable of operating between logistics hubs are introduced as a complement to manually driven trucks. The analysis shows that in both scenarios, driverless trucks could reduce total costs for Swedish freight transport in the range of billions of SEK per year. Road transport demand and truck traffic volumes may increase significantly through modal shifts from rail and sea. This could lead to increased societal costs through, for instance, increased CO2 emissions and congestion which are, however, not quantified in the study. In Paper 3, an analysis of the innovation system of driverless trucks based on an interview study with actors involved in the development and introduction of driverless trucks in Sweden is presented. The findings suggest that there are several favorable factors for a successful introduction of driverless trucks, but also that the innovation system is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty related to what infrastructure will be required and available, what business models will be emerging, and which actors will be able to capitalize on the development and which actors that become marginalized in a future with driverless trucks. The findings from this thesis can be of interest for policymakers since it highlights potential benefits and challenges associated with driverless trucks from a transport-system perspective and the provided indicative quantitative estimates on system-level impacts offer a glimpse into a future freight transport system with driverless trucks. Also, the thesis highlights critical challenges for the innovation system of driverless trucks which could guide efforts to improve its performance.