Self-driving truck technology company Plus (formerly Plus.ai) announced Tuesday that it will sell trucks powered by its automated driving system on Full Truck Alliance (FTA), the Google-backed Chinese digital freight-matching platform.
The Level 3 autonomous trucks will be manufactured by another Chinese trucking giant, FAW, the world’s largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer.
Earlier this year Plus announced that the truck in question, the FAW J7+, would start mass production in 2021.
FTA took a stake in Plus in 2019 and last month raised $1.7 billion, the latest in a series of eye-popping raises secured by digital freight companies. In addition to connecting truck drivers with shippers transporting cargo, FTA also provides financial services including logistics financing, insurance, fuel cards and new truck sales to its users.
With over 1 million trucks on the platform up for replacement every year, FTA has “a lot of influence” over what truck fleets and drivers buy in China, Plus COO Shawn Kerrigan told FreightWaves.
The company gives preferential treatment — better shipping customers and tasks — to drivers with better trucks, he explained, and Plus is banking on the fact that the autonomous trucks fall into that category.
The Level 3 FAW J7+ is more fuel-efficient, safer and more comfortable for the driver, he asserted.
FTA previously sold over 20,000 customized new tractors through a similar arrangement, according to Plus
A trend in the making: Digital freight matching meets autonomous tech
Calling attention to the similarities between the two developments, Kerrigan said the Uber-Aurora partnership would allow both companies to focus on their respective strengths, “where Uber serves as a platform and Aurora focuses on technology development.”
Having Uber Freight (the company’s digital freight platform) as a sales channel can help Aurora “further drive scale when their self-driving system becomes ready as a commercial product,” he said.
In the same vein, noted Kerrigan, “the scale and influence” of the FTA platform, with its 10 million truckers and 5 million shippers, is a powerful force multiplier for Plus, and will push its technology into the next level, literally.
“The combination of the FAW and FTA sales networks as well as partnerships we have in the U.S.,” Kerrigan explained, “will enable us to have tens of thousands of trucks on the road to accumulate billions of high-quality real-world driving data with broad scenario exposure needed to achieve Level 4 autonomy.”
As a strategic investor in Plus, FTA has “long believed in the team and its ability to execute on being the first to commercialize automated trucks,” Tianye Miao, FTA senior vice president, said in a press statement.
FTA, Miao added, “is excited to realize our vision of bringing this transformational technology to the millions of truckers and shippers on our platform.”