By Allison Prang
Volkswagen AG trucking subsidiary Traton Group will work with automation startup TuSimple to develop self-driving trucks and will take a stake in the technology company as part of their agreement.
Traton said in announcing the deal on Wednesday it aims to begin testing autonomous heavy-duty trucks on roads in countries including Germany and Sweden, without providing a target date.
The agreement with Germany-based Traton marks TuSimple's first move into Europe. It follows a similar agreement TuSimple struck in July with Navistar International Corp. to jointly develop self-driving trucks, with the U.S. truck manufacturer also taking a minority stake in the startup.
Traton, whose truck brands include Scania AB and MAN SE, holds about 17% of the shares in Navistar and is seeking to acquire the Lisle, Ill.-based manufacturer.
Traton and TuSimple didn't disclose the size of the stake the European manufacturer is taking in the company. TuSimple earlier this year raised $215 million in an extended Series D funding round, with investors including United Parcel Service Inc. through its UPS Ventures investment arm.
Founded in 2015 and with offices in San Diego and in China, TuSimple has a fleet of more than three-dozen trucks in commercial service in the U.S. Southwest that use autonomous technology but have a human operator behind the wheel. The company has said it aims to pilot a completely self-driving service in 2021.
"Our partnership with [Traton] accelerates the introduction of autonomous truck technology to new international markets," TuSimple President Cheng Lu said.
The Traton-TuSimple agreement comes amid growing interest in automation technology in transportation, which backers believe will cut costs and improve efficiency in freight networks.
TuSimple rival Ike Robotics said earlier this month that it was working with several operators, including Ryder System Inc. and German logistics giant Deutsche Post AG, on installing truck automation technology.
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