Traton Group, the truck unit of German automaker Volkswagen, said it plans to develop self-driving trucks with TuSimple.
The San Diego, Calif., self-driving technology company already has a similar deal with Navistar International Corp. to develop International brand autonomous vehicles for the U.S. market.
Traton is a major Navistar shareholder and is in talks to acquire the Lisle, Ill., company. Its work with TuSimple will focus on the European market where VW owns the MAN and Scania brands..
Like the U.S., Western Europe suffers from a shortage of truckers and some estimates say the shortfall in Germany amounts to 60,000 positions. Traton said it sees autonomous trucks as a potential solution to the shortage.
“Our partnership with Traton Group accelerates the introduction of autonomous truck technology to new international markets, and we look forward to our global partnership,” said Cheng Lu, President, TuSimple.
As part of the deal, Traton has taken a minority stake in TuSimple. The companies did not disclose the size or terms of the investment. The test trucks will have the badge and logos of Traton’s brands.
TuSimple is pushing aggressively into autonomous trucking. Earlier this year it unveiled an agreement to team with UPS and other major trucking players to organize what it says will be the first autonomous freight network.
Besides UPS, the partners include Penske Truck Leasing, motor carrier U.S. Xpress and McLane, a national logistics company owned by Berkshire Hathaway. The goal is to create a nationwide network of digitally mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals that will enable, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations starting in the Southwestern U.S., Lu said.
In Europe, Traton and TuSimple will test so-called Level 4 autonomous trucks on a hub-to-hub route in Sweden. They also expect to launch tests in Germany. The trucks can drive on their own but a safety driver monitors their operation and take control if needed.
The deal is likely to follow the pattern of the Navistar agreement.
TuSimple and Navistar said they will have a fully integrated self-driving truck ready for mass-production at the truck builder’s factories by 2024. Customers will be able to purchase fully autonomous trucks through Navistar’s traditional sales channels in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
TuSimple already operates a fleet of 40 self-driving trucks in the U.S., shipping freight autonomously between Arizona and Texas. But for now, those vehicles have a safety driver inside the cab to monitor the truck’s performance and take over the controls when needed. However, TuSimple told Trucks.com that it plans to demonstrate driverless operations in some time next year.