After equipping some Amazon long-haul trucks with its autonomous software in the U.S. earlier this year, autonomous trucking startup Plus is making initial deliveries to First Auto Works (FAW), China’s largest truck manufacturer and its joint venture partner.
China’s first production units are technically high-autonomy Level 4, but they have been repackaged to operate under human supervision with fewer features.
Unlike the upfitting of the software and hardware on the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) trucks, FAW is installing the PlusDrive system in its factories and will sell, service and maintain the technology.
“Whether that is directly to fleets as we have done in the U.S. or to OEMs like FAW in China, we are excited that fleets will be operating their PlusDrive-enabled autonomous trucks on public roads in both the U.S. and China,” Shawn Kerrigan, Plus chief operating officer and co-founder, said in a press release.
Going its own way
Plus diverges from its self-driving truck competitors by scaling PlusDrive so that it can make money and accumulate 8 billion miles of real-world driving by 2024, its target to pull the driver from the cab.
Plus has demonstrated driverless trucks in closed environments, including a recent demo on a 20-mile stretch of a new highway near Shanghai. But driverless operation on public roads will occur only when Plus has gathered enough data to consider it is safe..
The date for driverless trucking is consistent with competitors TuSimple, Embark Trucks, Kodiak Robotics, and Waymo Via. Aurora Innovation plans to begin driverless operations in late 2023. Plus places greater value on driver-supervised miles than on computer simulations, but it uses both as its competitors do.
Plus, which has raised about $800 million in two fundraising rounds, has a definitive merger agreement with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V (NASDAQ: HCIC) that is expected to result in Plus as a publicly traded company by the end of the year with a valuation of $3.3 billion.
The business combination needs the approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission and HCIC shareholders.
“We are committed to generating long-term, sustainable shareholder value,” Kerrigan said.
Early order bank
FAW has received thousands of pre-orders from large Chinese fleets such as Rokin, Duckbill and Guangzhou Zhihong.
“Autonomous trucks powered by PlusDrive are a revolutionary product for our industry. It enhances safety, efficiency and sustainability. This will bring tremendous benefit to our network of commercial vehicles,” said Xiong Xingming, CEO at Rokin, China’s largest refrigerated and frozen goods transport company with more than 60,000 trucks.
Said Liu Zhiyuan, CEO and founder of Guangzhou Zhihong, which has 30,000 trucks: ”As the trucking industry faces a continued driver shortage, the demand for autonomous trucks that enhance the safety, efficiency and sustainability of long-haul trucking is increasing.”
Temasek Holdings-backed container truck fleet company, Duckbill, operates a network of more than 40,000 container trucks, and “container trucking is growing significantly,” said Tang Hongbin, Duckbill CEO and founder.