Self-driving truck technology provider Plus could see its driving automation products hit mass production in China next year after announcing extended partnerships with a truck manufacturer and a digital freight network in that country this week.
Cupertino, California-based Plus expanded its existing deal with Full Truck Alliance (FTA), an online freight broker that is also an investor in Plus, alongside the venture capital firms Sequoia, Lightspeed, GSR Ventures, and Mayfield. In addition to its brokerage services, FTA also provides financing, fueling, insurance, and new truck sales including FAW and other brands.
Through that deal, Plus gains a new sales channel for the automated trucks that are slated to begin mass production in 2021 on assembly lines run by its other partner— FAW Jiefang Truck Co. Ltd., a Shanghai-based automaker that launched its seventh generation of heavy-duty truck–the Jiefang J7—in 2018. Since that launch, FAW has partnered with Plus to create the automated FAW J7+ model—which still operates with a driver behind the wheel—and it plans to bring out a driverless “Level 4” autonomous truck in 2024.
The current model offers improved fuel efficiency, safety, and driver comfort compared to standard vehicles, Plus COO and co-founder Shawn Kerrigan said in a briefing. “We are a technology provider, building a full, level-four software stack; we’re not aiming to build the trucks or operate a transportation network, but we’ll be the first level four technology provider to bring our truck to market when it launches,” he said.
Plus has also demonstrated that self-driving truck technology in the U.S. on tracks in Ohio and Michigan, where it underwent testing by independent groups, the company said in July. The firm says it is also running pilots with large American logistics providers and with four of the top 10 truck OEMs, but did not disclose the names of those partners.
Through the new deal, the FAW J7+ truck will be sold through FTA’s platform, which has large market share in China’s vast industrial sector, handling transactions this year for over 10 million truckers and 5 million shippers. According to Kerrigan, that large scale will help drive sales of the new truck model and allow Plus to accumulate enormous amounts of real-world driving miles in diverse scenarios to prove out the safety and reliability of its driving system.