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Feds close probe into TuSimple autonomous truck crash

NHTSA passes on opening investigation, so driverless software developer in the clear

The federal truck safety agency closed an investigation into a TuSimple autonomous truck cash with no penalty to the company. (Photo: Asian Mai/YouTube)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has closed its investigation into a heavily publicized crash of a TuSimple autonomous truck.

TuSimple said it responded to several FMCSA requests following the April 6 non-injury incident on Interstate 10 in Arizona. The probe closed with no penalties. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to open a separate probe, the company said.

A driver-supervised autonomous truck took an unintended sharp left turn across a lane of westbound traffic on I-10 and struck a concrete barrier. The safety driver tried to countersteer the truck, which followed a computer-generated command that was several minutes old.

TuSimple initially said the incident was driver error. Later it acknowledged its compute system and the safety driver both bore responsibility. The company grounded its fleet of mostly Navistar International trucks and made software fixes to avoid a repeat occurrence.

Crash dinged TuSimple reputation as autonomous trucking leader

TuSimple’s leadership among autonomous trucking startups suffered from the crash. It was the first to conduct a “driver out” pilot called Ghost Rider. The truck with no human in the cab covered 80 miles of nighttime driving from Tucson, Arizona, to a rail yard east of Phoenix in December 2021.

TuSimple did not immediately inform Navistar, its manufacturing partner at the time, about the crash. Following several months of boardroom drama in late 2022, Navistar and TuSimple ended a 2 ½-year partnership targeting development of a TuSimple-enabled International LT Class 8 truck that was to go on sale in 2025.

“We prioritize safety at TuSimple,” CEO Cheng Lu said in a statement. “After the incident, we halted autonomous operations, launched an internal review and collaborated with regulators. Our review resulted in additional improvements in our systems and testing operations. We are committed to continuing our mission of developing a commercial-ready, fully autonomous  driving solution for long-haul, heavy-duty trucks.”

The crash probe attracted significant media attention and brought renewed criticism that robot-driven trucks are not ready for prime time. The end of the investigation is the first good news for TuSimple in some time.

Investors pummel TuSimple shares amid boardroom drama

After going public in April 2021 with an $8.1 million market capitalization, TuSimple shares began a roller-coaster ride that eventually turned downward. TuSimple shares closed Thursday at $1.80 compared to its 52-week high of $16.61. 

The company went public at $40 a share. It traded as high as $70 before shares of tech startups suffered under investor abandonment beginning in late 2021.

TuSimple co-founder Xiaodi Hou, the company’s largest shareholder by virtue of 10-to-1 super voting rights of company stock, removed Lu a year ago. Most of the senior leadership under Lu left the company.

Hou was fired by TuSimple’s independent directors at the end of October. Ten days later, Hou and co-founder Mo Chen, who also holds super voting rights, ousted the independent directors and brought back Lu as CEO. 

Declining revenue from its freight-hauling business and the cratering stock price and valuation led Lu to restructure the company and lay off 25% of TuSimple’s work force in December, about 350 people. Lu has a guaranteed $15 million severance if he is removed from the CEO job a second time for practically any reason.

TuSimple lays off 350 employees as its fortunes worsen

Co-founder gets voting control of TuSimple

Cheng Lu back as TuSimple CEO

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler. 

One Comment

  1. Performance records show

    Road construction make those things crash because they’re isn’t any line’s in the road to follow and some spots you go over lines for something that used to be there. Low hanging overhead sign on top of a hill you’re going up it’s scanner thinks it’s a stopped vehicle and a sharp curve that has guard rail

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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.