Closing in on China’s massive trucking market, autonomous trucking outfit Plus.ai on Sept. 6 announced a joint venture with FAW Jiefang, China’s largest truck manufacturer, to develop self-driving big rigs for the world’s most populous country.
The new venture, which builds on a two-year relationship between the two companies, also is launching its first product, the FAW J7 Level Two truck, with plans to bring a full Level Four heavy-duty truck to market in the next three to five years.
“We are extremely pleased to cement our partnership with FAW Jiefang in order to bring Plus.ai’s autonomous trucking technology to China,” said Plus.ai co-founder and chief operating officer Shawn Kerrigan, in a press release. “This exclusive relationship is a testament to the technological prowess of Plus.ai and our ability to execute with partners.”
Level Two and Level Four express different levels of autonomy. Level Two vehicles incorporate advanced driver assist features to aid with steering and braking but still require a human driver. A Level Four truck can drive itself under certain conditions.
Founded in 2016 by a group of Stanford classmates, Plus.ai is one of a handful of autonomous trucking startups seeking to automate long-haul trucking. The company has operations in California and China, and has been testing vehicles in both countries.
News of the joint venture comes a few weeks after reports circulated that the Sequoia Capital-backed Plus.ai is raising $200 million to help bankroll its expansion.
In a conversation with FreightWaves that took place in late August, Kerrigan touted the company’s “diversified set of top-tier investors,” along with the company’s strategy of building tight partnerships up and down the value chain.
In addition to its business relationship with FAW, Plus.ai claims as a partner Softbank- and Google-backed FullTruck Alliance, a Chinese freight-matching platform that controls 80% of the country’s trucking market.
“Between those two we have a very strong position in the Chinese market,” Kerrigan said. “We’re applying that same strategy to the U.S. On the upstream side, we’re working with major original equipment manufacturers, and on the downstream side, we’re running freight pilots with fleets.”
Kerrigan declined to identify Plus.ai’s domestic partners, saying only the company has tested extensively in the U.S. and China, where an estimated 6.1 trillion metric ton-kilometers of freight are moved by a fleet of more than 5 million heavy-duty trucks.
Built on Plus.ai’s L4 full-stack autonomous driving technology, the FAW J7 L2 offers safety improvements and fuel optimization. Key benefits include the ability to automate driving activities to reduce human error and driver fatigue.