Warren Buffett is betting against a future of self-driving cars and trucks

Trucking into the future.
Trucking into the future.
Image: AP Photo/Tony Avelar
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So much for the prophesies of the self-driving soothsayers, who’ve been warning of a future in which truck drivers are out of a job. Warren Buffett doesn’t seem too worried.

The billionaire investor’s conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, announced today (Oct. 3) that it had entered into an agreement to acquire an immediate 38.6% stake in the truck-stop company Pilot Flying J. In 2023, that stake would increase to 80%. In tossing so much money into Pilot Flying J, the 86-year-old business titan is making a bet that there will continue to be money to be spent and made on America’s much-mythologized highways.

Pilot Flying J has “created an industry leader and a key enabler of the nation’s economy,” Buffett said in a statement. “The company has a smart growth strategy in place and we look forward to a partnership that supports the trucking industry for years to come.”

It’s not his only investment in a traditional way America ships its cargo. In 2009, Buffett spent more than $35 billion to purchase the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. railroad company. The company has sense reaped Buffett benefits.

Still, Buffett’s faith in the future of a trucking system operated by humans could totally miss the mark. To be sure, the billionaire has admitted before to being very, very wrong in his thinking. In May, Buffett told shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway that he underestimated the potential of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.

“I was too dumb to realize,” he said. “I did not think [Bezos] could success on the scale he has.”

To be sure, self-driving trucks are already in use in some capacities. At one of Singapore’s busiest ports, robot-run trucks are transporting cargo. In Australia, they are hauling iron ore. And in mid-2016, a fleet of driverless trucks navigated their way across the continent.