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U.S. Xpress takes on Aurora as a 2nd autonomous trucking collaborator

Latest example of how monogamy is elusive in autonomous trucking tie-ups

Aurora Innovation will collaborate with U.S. Xpress to pick the best routes for driverless trucking. (Photo: U.S. Xpress)

Aurora Innovation Inc. will collaborate with U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc. to sift the best lanes for driverless trucking as Aurora fine-tunes its system for commercialization.

Working with U.S. Xpress (NYSE: USX) is interesting because the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based carrier has deep ties with rival TuSimple Holdings as an investor, adviser and likely customer for International LT Class 8 tractors that TuSimple (NASDAQ: TSP) is developing with Navistar.

But since for-hire trucking firms use equipment from multiple manufacturers, Aurora’s ties with Paccar Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) and Volvo Trucks (OTC: VLVLY) could help U.S. Xpress expand its autonomous ambitions.

“U.S. Xpress remains involved with TuSimple,” U.S. Xpress spokesman Brad Carmony told FreightWaves. “We continue to identify additional strategic partners in the autonomous vehicle ecosystem as we find ways to integrate this technology into our future fleet.”

Variant focused

Aurora (NASDAQ: AUR) appears to be focusing its collaboration on the Variant brokerage units of U.S. Xpress, leveraging the digitally enabled fleet to identify where autonomous technology can have the greatest impact.

“The exploration of where to most strategically place the Aurora Driver will help Variant satisfy demand and will also inform future order acceptance, along with each order’s relative impact on the broader network,” an Aurora spokesperson said. (Aurora’s company policy is to not use names of spokespersons.) 

The companies plan to identify the best deployment strategies of Aurora Driver-powered trucks so they’re strategically positioned to address unmet demand and improve operational efficiency and productivity, according to a press release. 

Aurora and U.S. Xpress also will explore application programming interface (API) integrations into Variant’s platform to enhance dispatching and dynamic routing upon the launch of Aurora Horizon. But the efforts are not solely aimed at autonomous trucking.

Aurora’s field operation facility in Palmer, Texas. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

‘Drivers will always have a place’

“The future of trucking will involve innovative technology that Aurora is developing, which is why we’re collaborating now to assure we’re first to market with autonomous trucks,” said Eric Fuller, U.S. Xpress president and CEO.

“Professional truck drivers will always have a place with our company, while autonomous trucks will supplement and help provide much-needed capacity to the supply chain.”

U.S. Xpress announced in January 2021 an investment in TuSimple and that Fuller would join the startup’s Executive Advisory Board. U.S. Xpress also is among early customers to reserve some of the 7,300 ground-up autonomous trucks that TuSimple is developing with Navistar targeting 2024 production.

U.S. Xpress has worked with TuSimple since 2019 and has tested trucks retrofitted with TuSimple software on select lanes for some of its major customers.  

“We’ve long said we don’t require exclusivity from our partners and they don’t require it from us,” the Aurora spokesperson said. “Each of our partnerships has a slightly different focus during development, but all have a common objective to prepare Aurora Horizon as a premium Driver-as-a-Service for commercial scale.”

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes U.S. Xpress (No. 13)

Disclosure: FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller retains ownership of U.S. Xpress shares through his family trust.

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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.