In the latest sign of growing optimism for truck tech startups, TuSimple said Tuesday that it has raised $55 million in venture capital.
The funding announcement comes on the heels of a successful test of the company’s Level 4 self-driving system. Level 4 is the federal regulatory label for vehicles that can drive without a human at the controls.
TuSimple executives, and apparently investors, are bullish that the trucking industry stands on the cusp of a self-driving revolution that will transform its economics and safety.
“Human error and driver fatigue account for a large portion of truck accidents,” said Mo Chen, chief executive of TuSimple. “We are thrilled to partner with our investors to help make freight movement safer, smarter and cleaner.”
The funding comes near the tail end of what has been a blockbuster year of investments into truck tech startups. As of July, venture capitalists had poured $583 million into trucking startups, putting it on a pace to top $1 billion this year, a significant leap from the $742 million raised the previous year, according to CB Insights.
This is the third round of venture capital TuSimple has raised, bringing its total to $83.1 million, according to Crunchbase. The company now lists its headquarters as San Diego, but it was originally launched in China, and its fundraising reflects those origins. The latest round was led by Hong Kong-based Composite Capital and included several other Chinese firms. Previous investors include Silicon Valley chip giant Nvidia, which has been pushing aggressively into autonomous vehicles over the past year.
Other companies, including Daimler Trucks and Tesla Inc. are developing trucks with self-driving capability.
TuSimple has an ambitious plan for deploying its technology. Where some autonomous trucking startups are focused on selling self-driving tech to truck manufacturers or fleet owners, TuSimple is creating its own fleet of trucks using its platform. The goal is to push the limits of the technology to speed the elimination of drivers, a development that would deliver huge cost savings to fleet owners.
The company has set 2019 as its goal for deployment, a date that remains aggressive. For now, TuSimple said it will use this new round of funding to expand tests of its truck fleets in China and Arizona, where it is building out an engineering team. The company also plans to continue expansion of its research team in San Diego and Beijing.