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Driverless cars will transform jobs in Tennessee, finds study

A new study exploring the impact of driverless cars on the US state of Tennessee has found that the rise of autonomous vehicles and a transition to electric vehicles will open new opportunities in the state and transform jobs, companies and potentially even industries. In doing so, their arrival is likely to reshape Tennessee's economy, tax revenue and everyday life, found the authors.

The study – Potential Impacts of Autonomous Vehicles on Tennessee's Economy – outlines the changes expected in the coming years and concludes that the state must change the way students and adults are trained and educated, rethink the way infrastructure is built and amend the regulations in place for vehicles. Nearly one in six jobs in the state is tied closely to the vehicle sector.

Study authors Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and research associates Alex Norwood and Vickie Cunningham, noted that in 2017, more than 72,000 vehicle manufacturing jobs existed in Tennessee, including those in the vehicle assembly and automotive parts industries. However, found the study, many of these workers may lose their positions or have to transition to making different parts, as electric cars have fewer components.

Similarly, while today's vehicles typically derive their value from a mix of 90 percent hardware and 10 percent software, for autonomous vehicles this ratio could be closer to 60 percent software and 40 percent hardware, believe the authors.

Impact of autonomous cars on vehicle support jobs

Almost 119,000 Tennesseans work in vehicle support jobs at automobile dealerships, gas stations, auto repair shops and maintenance or tyre stores. The study found that nearly all employment in existing vehicle support industries and occupations will change drastically, because autonomous cars are more likely to be owned by fleets than by individuals.

“You would request a car, much like you do with a taxi or Uber now,” said Fox. “That means you’re not taking a car to the repair shop, you’re not filling it up with gas and you’re not budgeting for new tires. This shared mobility benefits Tennessean households, potentially saving them up to $5,000 per year.”


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The authors suggest that driving jobs may be lost quickly as autonomous vehicles replace the tasks performed by taxi drivers, truck drivers and other drivers. Meanwhile, found the report, other workers who use vehicles intensively in their jobs, such as ambulance drivers, firefighters and plumbers, will see their jobs transformed.

In total, believe the authors, nearly half a million jobs are at risk of being impacted by the advent of autonomous vehicles in Tennessee.

However, said Fox, “It is important to remember that new vehicle-related jobs will be created, as will other jobs in the economy. Tennessee must transform aggressively if it is to be an economic leader as these many changes occur, and a big challenge is helping existing workers transition to the new opportunities.”

Potential benefits of autonomous vehicles for Tennessee

Despite the threat to existing jobs, the study found that autonomous vehicles will offer a number of benefits for the state: they are less damaging for the environment; time spent in the vehicles will be more productive; there will be fewer crashes, saving lives; traffic congestion will decrease; and parking spaces can be freed up for more productive purposes.

The authors found that Tennessee could benefit in several ways by developing policies now that would give it a chance to become a leader in the autonomous vehicles industry and a desirable base for related industries.

“China, Japan, Germany and the EU more broadly are going to do this,” said Fox. “They already have too many cars on the road, and AVs will help alleviate that. Does Tennessee want to be a leader or a follower in this emerging industry?” 


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