Smart cars and connected vehicles could be on their way to addressing road congestion, reducing accident risks and promoting overall convenience for drivers no longer at the wheel. Those are significant propositions for the fleet industry, with giants like Amazon and Uber Freight investing in autonomous vehicle technology to disrupt ground logistics.
Earlier this year, reports surfaced of Amazon-branded trailers transported via Embark autonomous trucks, considered proof that the eCommerce and logistics conglomerate is funding tests for driverless delivery and logistics solutions. At the time, neither Amazon nor Embark provided comments to CNBC, which reported on the claims of their collaboration. However, reports did point to a nationwide truck driver shortage as an enticing motivation behind such initiatives.
Uber Freight, Uber’s logistics arm, similarly fueled speculation of the industry’s interest in autonomous vehicles when reports said the company had begun launching autonomous truck deliveries, described by TechCrunch reports at the time as “a big step toward commercialization of Uber’s autonomous truck tech.”
Other players in the fleet sectors have expressed support for autonomous vehicle technology’s fleet disruption.
According to fleet management firm DDS Wireless, “whether it’s via a taxi booking service or a para-transit dispatch system, connected and autonomous vehicles will change fleet management, both challenging and benefitting the industry.”
Payments Come Into Play
With autonomous vehicle square in the line of vision for at least some major logistics players, the industry is gradually going further, broadening its view to include payments.
This effort most recently came to a head with Quest Venture Partners’ investment in Car IQ in June, providing $5 million for a company that turns a smart vehicle into a vehicle for payment, too.
“The car is going to be an extension of who you are, just like the phone is,” said Suresh Ramamurthi, chairman and chief technology officer of CBQ Bank in an interview with American Banker.
In an interview with PYMNTS, Car IQ’s founder and CEO Sterling Pratz expressed similar confidence of the automobile’s future in payments tech — especially in the fleet payments space as logistics players up their investment in autonomous technology.
“There are billions of dollars spent each year on fleet vehicles, and we think nearly all of it can be transferred to our platform where cars pay — instead of humans with credit cards,” he said, pointing to scenarios like refueling, repairs, parking, insurance and tools as potential use-cases.
Lack Of Certainty
Considering the lack of autonomous vehicles on the road today, let alone the fleet industry’s lack of adoption and implementation of such technology, there is no guarantee that smart cars will overhaul the fleet payments area.
Indeed, despite Uber Freight’s high-profile investment in the technology, last year reports announced that Uber would end its project to develop autonomous vehicles, and instead focus on self-driving passenger car technology (though, according to TechCrunch, the decision does not affect Uber Freight).
However, it appears that fleet payments players are taking a pragmatic approach to the possibility of fleet payments driven (literally) by vehicles.
“Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing ‘dock to dock’ runs for a very long time,” said Uber product lead for self-driving trucks Alden Woodrow in an interview with The Atlantic last year before reports emerged of the project’s closure.
Commercial payments firm WEX pointed to Woodrow’s remarks in its reflection of the potential for autonomous vehicles to disrupt fleet payments — not to replace drivers outright, but to boost efficiency in the sector.
“While all the talk seems to be about how autonomous trucks will solve the driver shortage or become a disaster for existing drivers, there is more to it,” Electronic Funds Source, a part of WEX, wrote in a blog post last year. “Automation means efficiencies; it does not mean complete control.”