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Self-driving trucks spur land rushes near large cities.

May 20, 2022

The prospect of self-driving trucks could further intensify land-grabbing big cities, partly fueled by the increase in long-haul trucking. Alterra Property Group LLC, a real-estate investor, based in Philadelphia, said Monday that it had launched a partnership with autonomous-truck company Embark Trucks Inc. to buy property across the U.S.

Embark, which went public in November 2021, plans to commercially launch the first trucks in Sunbelt states such as California and Texas in 2024. The autonomous trucks would drive on highways and then pass on the trailers to city-driven trucks.

The emergence of self-driving trucks comes as America’s voracious demand for electronics, household wares, and other goods has boosted truck traffic. Truck operators need land near big population centers to store their vehicles. However, since the ground is scarce, the developers have been buying up outdoor facilities such as e-commerce warehouses. Thus, strict zoning rules mean that few sites qualify for truck storage and creating a significant supply-and-demand-imbalance,” said the executive managing director at a commercial-property firm.

While big investors have been buying up e-commerce warehouses for years, they have mostly neglected industrial outdoor storage facilities. Most plots are small and owned by local landlords or small logistics businesses, making it hard to find real estate to buy.

Aside from trucks, outdoor facilities zoned for heavy industrial use often store construction materials and equipment. A residential construction boom has increased demand for these facilities.

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