Global heavy truck manufacturers are lining up technology partners to help build out self-driving systems for long-haul freight that could see widespread commercial service well before self-driving robotaxis.
Analysts expect more such partnerships, as relatively young technology firms such as Aurora connect their autonomous vehicle systems knowledge with the deep manufacturing experience of legacy companies such as Volvo Trucks.
“You can’t go at it alone in autonomy,” said Grayson Brulte, president consultancy Brulte & Company. “The trucking industry is a completely different personality” than the passenger vehicle business, with different requirements.
Most of the larger truck manufacturers have turned to self-driving tech partners, driven in part by a chronic shortage of drivers and a boom in e-commerce, fueled by the global pandemic.
In January, Aurora announced a strategic partnership with U.S. truckmaker PACCAR, whose brands include Peterbilt and Kenworth.
Aurora’s founders include self-driving veterans from Tesla and Alphabet’s Waymo. Aurora last year said its first commercial product would be in trucking “where the market is largest (and) the unit economics are best.”
In 2020, Waymo Chief Executive John Krafcik told Reuters that “goods delivery is a bigger market than moving people” as Waymo expanded its focus to include heavy trucks.
Germany’s Daimler has formed a self-driving truck alliance with Waymo, while China’s largest heavy truck maker, FAW Jiefang, has partnered with Plus AI.
Volkswagen’s Traton truck group is an investor in TuSimple, as is U.S. truckmaker Navistar.
In a January earnings call, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said the long-delayed Semi electric truck is highly likely to be the first of the company’s vehicles to achieve full self-driving capability.