The strategic partnership includes Navistar taking an undisclosed stake in self-driving trucks startup TuSimple. The plan is to move away from retrofitting the Navistar International commercial trucks that TuSimple currently uses and instead develop semi trucks specifically designed for autonomous operations.
"Autonomous technology is entering our industry and will have a profound impact on our customers' businesses," Navistar CEO and president Persio Lisboa said in a statement, adding that the partnership positions it to be a leader in developing and offering products that meet their customers' needs.
Customers will be able to purchase the fully autonomous trucks through Navistar's traditional sales channels in the United States, Canada and Mexico, the companies said Wednesday.
The arrangement is important for both companies. TuSimple needs a dedicated trucks manufacturer where it can park its technology platform if it hopes to launch truly driverless commercial operations that are safe and ultimately profitable. And Navistar is betting TuSimple is the company that will help it stand out and pull ahead of OEM competitors Daimler Trucks North America and Volvo Group.
TuSimple president Cheng Lu is bullish on the partnership, stating that together there is a clear path to commercialize self-driving Class 8 trucks at scale.
However, TuSimple and Navistar aren't alone in this pursuit. A wave of autonomous trucking startups, including Ike and Kodiak, has popped up in recent years. And more AV technology companies such as Aurora and Waymo are either expanding their focus to include driverless trucking or shifting away from business models like robotaxis that involve transporting people.
TuSimple, which is also backed by Sina, Nvidia, UPS and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corporation, operates a fleet of 40 self-driving trucks in the U.S. that are used for testing and to carry freight between Arizona and Texas. The trucks always have two safety engineers on board.
The strategic partnership comes as TuSimple is seeking to raise at least $250 million in new funding. The company has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise the funds.
The search for funding kicked off around the same time that TuSimple unveiled a plan to create a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024 — the same year that Navistar aims to start production of those trucks.
UPS, which also owns a minority stake in TuSimple, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. are the inaugural partners in this so-called autonomous freight network (AFN).
TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces: its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real time.
TuSimple said it plans to demonstrate completely driverless operations in 2021.