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September 23, 2020 10:45 AM, EDT

TuSimple, Traton Group to Develop Autonomous Trucks in Europe

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TuSimple, a developer of autonomous-driving technology for trucking, and Traton Group, Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck unit, announced a partnership to develop SAE Level 4 self-driving trucks, calling it a first in Europe. Traton also took a minority stake in TuSimple.

The two, initially, will apply Level 4 technology on Traton’s heavy-duty Scania trucks traveling a hub-to-hub route in Sweden between Södertälje and Jönköping — a one-way distance of about 200 miles.

Level 4 trucks are those in which the vehicle can travel without driver input or backup assistance, at least within specific areas and conditions.

“Innovative future technologies that provide additional value to our customers represent a key part of our strategy,” Traton CEO Matthias Gründler said in a release.

TuSimple

TuSimple’s self-driving technology will be tested on Scania S500 trucks in Sweden in a new partnership with Traton Group. (TuSimple)

Traton’s broader goal is to test driverless truck fleets on roads throughout Sweden, Germany and other countries, according to the Munich-based company.

“I think some of the same dynamics are also happening in Europe as in the U.S.,” TuSimple President Cheng Lu told Transport Topics. “I think there is a driver shortage and an aging driver population. On the demand side, e-commerce and the pressure for one-day or two-day delivery is driving truck freight. That’s a global trend.”

The companies noted there is an estimated shortage of around 60,000 drivers in Germany alone.

The latest partnership comes after TuSimple in July partnered in the U.S. with Navistar Inc. to co-develop SAE Level 4 self-driving trucks targeted for production by 2024.

Traton has offered to buy Navistar for $3.6 billion, but Navistar called the amount inadequate. Traton already owns a 17% stake in the Lisle, Ill.-based company .

Asked if TuSimple partnerships with other truck makers were likely, Lu said, “I don’t think I can give you a definite answer yet. But I would say that I think if, you look at who are the credible technology developers of autonomous driving for trucks, there’s really not that many, and less and less. So we really have built a quiet leadership in the market from both software, hardware and business models. So I think we will have opportunities to partner, absolutely.”

Lu said TuSimple will be very selective.

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What does it take to be a commercial driver, and what are schools doing to train them? Host Michael Freeze speaks with Chris Thropp of Sage Truck Driving School and Don Lefeve of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.

“What we are doing is designing, basically a new truck. The brains, what the body looks like, where you put the sensors, how you get the power. They’re not just buying a component from us. So you can imagine the amount of work that takes. It is something we have to be very selective about in terms of partnerships,” he said.

In the U.S., San Diego-based TuSimple has developed what it calls the Autonomous Freight Network. The company described it as an ecosystem consisting of autonomous trucks, digital mapped routes, strategically placed terminals and TuSimple Connect, a proprietary autonomous operations monitoring system.

“Currently while our technology is in development, we need to operate the autonomous trucks ourselves. In the future when commercialized self-driving trucks are available, shippers and fleets will be able to purchase TuSimple-enabled Navistar vehicles and operate them on the Autonomous Freight Network,” Lu said.

TuSimple logo

He said the company is discussing with Traton establishing a similar network in Europe. “But it is too early to say.”

Its base business model in the U.S. is that a customer buys a truck from Navistar, “then you’ll pay as part of this package a per-mile subscription fee to operate the truck autonomously,” he said.

He added: “There needs to be ongoing service and support to operate these trucks where the trucks can go. There’s dispatching, post-trip and pre-trip planning. Over-the-air updates. These are all ongoing. So it is unlikely that we can just give somebody a truck and that truck can drive anywhere. That would be more of next-generation type of product, but not for today.”

In addition to Scania, Traton’s brands include MAN, Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus and RIO. In 2019, Traton Group’s brands sold 242,000 vehicles in total — including light-duty commercial vehicles, trucks and buses that are produced at 29 facilities in 17 countries.

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