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In An Automated Car Economy, Who Will Lose?


A lot of Americans ask themselves these days, why brave the crowds in stores when you can do your holiday shopping in your pajamas on your sofa? Companies like Amazon and FedEx who help you shop and ship are especially interested in the development of automated vehicles. That's where the future of driverless cars might first become a reality. NPR's Sonari Glinton joins us. Sonari, thanks so much for being with us.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: It's a pleasure as always.

SIMON: So driverless cars - this is where we'll see them first?

GLINTON: Yeah. I mean, think of when you're driving down an interstate, and you look at the line of tractor trailers that stretches to the horizon. Those trucks will likely be the place where we get it first because, if you think about it, the consumer - the hundreds of millions of us who are, you know, drive around in cars - we might be reluctant. But you know who's not? Trucking companies, which employ about 9 million people in the U.S.

SIMON: That's a lot of jobs. Will they all be lost?

GLINTON: Well, some of those jobs are definitely going to be lost. But it is in that last mile that is the most critical part of delivery. But if you think of the long haul, that's likely where it's going to go first.

SIMON: Let's understand why, too. Automated trucks don't have to stop to sleep. They don't have to stop to go to the bathroom. They don't have to go to a truck stop to eat. Fill in the blanks.

GLINTON: Exactly. There are a lot of things that these vehicles won't do. And one of the things is that they will be safer. They'll be more efficient, be 24 hours. And when we look at job losses, I mean, 120 years ago, people, you know, feared for the blacksmith. And then we got the rise of the auto industry.

But what it looks like here is that the jobs that will replace those long-haul trucking jobs will be a lot more difficult, require a lot more training and a lot more technological skill than, say, driving a long-haul tractor trailer.

SIMON: Right now, when we read about experimental runs from long-haul trucks - driverless long-haul trucks - they emphasize that they have someone in the cab in case something goes wrong or just to be there to oversee the process. Would delivery companies eventually like to get rid of that person in the cab?

GLINTON: You can see, you know, that that is a cost that the companies want to get rid of. I mean, right now, you know, in the wake of Black Friday, people want free shipping, free shipping, free shipping. And that is a place where companies are looking to lower their costs - right there. And because we're demanding it - the consumers want that. They want that free shipping.

SIMON: Sonari, I have to ask you about the attitude of labor unions. I mean, long-haul truckers. These are teamsters. They don't say, welcome future. Here are our jobs.

GLINTON: No, definitely not. And these are - a lot of these are good, well-paying jobs. And this is - you know, the labor unions in part are trying to retrain workers. But there is this fear in general about - what are we going to do with these thousands of workers who will be likely out of jobs very soon? This is not in, you know, 15 years. This is in five to 10.

SIMON: NPR's Sonari Glinton, thanks so much.

GLINTON: Always a pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.