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Embark Trucks taps industry advisers on path to AV commercialization

Cadre of experts includes current and former leaders from across transportation

Embark Trucks is tapping more than 150 years of transportation industry experience in forming a Strategic Advisory Board as the company closes in on going public. (Photo: Embark Trucks)

SAN FRANCISCO — SPAC-sponsored Embark Trucks is adding more than 150 years of cumulative industry experience to its preparations for going public, assembling a strategic advisory board that touches all transportation industry sectors.

Embark is not the first autonomous trucking software startup to tap into the industry. TuSimple Holdings (NASDAQ: TSP) went public in April, the first of four autonomous trucking companies to seek public trading. TuSimple has a large group of advisers, many of whom are invested financially.

Embark, which did not disclose which of its advisers is investing in the company, calls the group “some of the best and brightest minds in the transportation industry.” The goal appears to be tapping the expertise of key executives who either ran or currently run businesses in the trucking space.

The Embark Advisory Board consists of:

●       Jonathan B. DeGaynor, president and CEO, Stoneridge Inc. (NYSE: SRI)

●       Rich J. Freeland, former president and chief operating officer, Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI)

●       David A. Jackson, president and CEO, Knight-Swift Transportation Inc. (NYSE: KNX).

●       Terry S. Kline, former chief information officer, Navistar International Corp. (OTC: TRATF)

●       Michele S. Meyer, former president and senior vice president of the snacks operating unit of General Mills. (NYSE: GIS)

●       Michael K. Pigors, former regional president, U.S. domestic and U.S. international operations, FedEx. (NYSE: FDX)

The six members come from shipping, trucking, truck manufacturing, Tier 1 suppliers, component manufacturing and consumer packaged goods. Their appointments are consistent with Embark’s strategy to focus on software development and leave the ins and outs of trucking to those that know it best.

“Our new advisory board equips Embark with a personal brain trust that will help us navigate a complex and dynamic industry as we target commercial driver-out operations in 2024,” CEO Alex Rodrigues said in a press release. 

“These thought leaders bring extraordinary experience to Embark and will be instrumental in our ability to execute against our business goals.”

“Our new advisory board equips Embark with a personal brain trust that will help us navigate a complex and dynamic industry as we target commercial driver-out operations in 2024.”

EMARK Trucks CEO Alex Rodrigues

A personal interest

DeGaynor, who leads electronics supplier Stoneridge, joined the board because of personal interest in the evolution of autonomous trucking and to work with other advisers.

“The products and technologies we’re working on, such as our connectivity devices, electronic instrument clusters and camera-based mirror systems, integrate well with other vehicles and systems,” DeGaynor told FreightWaves. “In time, we see our solutions as a platform for automation.”

Stoneridge has made no commitments, financial or otherwise, to Embark, a Stoneridge spokesperson said.

The advisory board announcement came as Embark hosted analysts, investors and news media at its San Francisco headquarters Wednesday for an update on the business, which Rodrigues founded in 2015 with Brandon Moak, who is chief technology officer. Embark was the first company to travel across the U.S. in a human-supervised autonomous truck.

Embark recently added former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to its board of directors. The company has been active individually and in autonomous groups in seeking federal regulation for autonomous trucking.

Telling its story  

After several years of operating quietly, Embark has begun telling more of its story, including the creation of a Partnership Development Program that includes Werner Enterprises, HP Inc. and Bison Transport.

It has developed the Embark Universal Interface (EUI), a plug-and-play autonomous driving system that can be adapted to any of the four major truck brands: Freightliner, Volvo, PACCAR Inc. and International.

The embark Universal Interface is a set of standardized self-driving modules adaptable to trucks from the four major truck manufacturers. (Photo: Embark Trucks)

The EUI is a set of standardized self-driving modules and the flexible interfaces necessary to more easily and robustly integrate Embark’s autonomous technology onto truck manufacturer vehicle platforms. It is powered by chipmaker Nvidia.

Philosophically aligned partners 

Embark said Tuesday it is deepening a working relationship with German Tier 1 supplier ZF to test, validate and integrate ZF’s ReAX adaptive steering technology to ensure EUI compatibility. Embark has tested the ReAX system for four years.

“Embark is a major proponent of ZF’s ReAX approach because it creates an interface point that’s common across columns and gears,” said Moak. “It’s important to get all the industry players — including Tier 1 suppliers — on board to create a robust self-driving platform, as well as an end-to-end support and maintenance ecosystem for self-driving trucks.”

Separately, Embark announced a collaboration Tuesday with Cummins to accelerate the integration of next-generation truck components and controls in self-driving trucks. Embark is testing Cummins’ automated driving system (ADS) powertrain interface to manage powertrain operations.

Integrating the EUI with Cummins’ powertrain interface will enable Embark to leverage Cummins’ ADEPT powertrain features, expected to improve fuel efficiency and performance of the self-driving system.

“The Embark Universal Interface is the heart of our technology approach, giving carriers the freedom to deploy self-driving technology on their preferred brand of truck,” Moak said. “By working with Cummins, we’re bolstering the EUI with new powertrain control features for improved self-driving performance and aligning with Cummins’ platform-agnostic business philosophy.”

Toward the SPAC finish line

In June, Embark entered into a definitive business combination agreement with Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. II (NYSE: NGAB) that is expected to close in the second half of the year assuming approval by voters in the blank check shell company created to merge with a startup.

Northern Genesis’ first special purpose acquisition company led electric truck and bus manufacturer Lion Electric to public trading in May.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.