Truck industry tech players are introducing next-generation technologies and tools, collectively referred to as “Truck Industry Tech,” comprising route planning and freight management apps, driving assist platforms, autonomous trucks, and electric and fuel cell truck components.
These tech solutions aim to shape the future of the truck industry by improving road safety and fuel efficiency while moving traditional freight matching and route planning online, providing convenience and cost savings for truck drivers, fleets, and shippers. The Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, and camera technologies have become essential to fueling the industry’s advancements.
Route planning, online freight matching platforms, and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 1 autonomous technology are in the commercial stage, whereas autonomous trucks (SAE level 4 and 5) and electric and fuel cell trucks are still at the pre-commercial stages.
Autonomous trucks and technological advancements in the industry have come into the spotlight during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing possible solutions to several issues within the sector, including driver shortages and bottlenecks in supply chain logistics.
The closing of state borders and manufacturing plants resulted in various industry-related issues, leading to layoffs for some businesses (ex: Kodiak Robotics, KeepTruckin).
Trucking apps, including Transflo, Trucker Tools, and Drivewyze, introduced new tools and features to safeguard driver health and keep supply chains moving during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The trucking tech industry is dominated by incumbents, especially in route planning software, driving and safety assist tools, and autonomous trucks. In contrast, startups hold a notable presence in freight matching and tracking platforms, likely influenced by the success of the digital ride-hailing and hospitality industries. Despite being relatively capital-intensive, the autonomous trucks segment also has a high presence of startups as costs of autonomous technology have decreased due to the boom in the self-driving vehicles industry. For example, Waymo managed to bring its Laser Bear Honeycomb LiDAR prices down by around 90% to roughly USD 7,500 by 2019 from the industry norm of USD 75,000 a few years before.
The most prominent disruptors in the industry come from the autonomous trucks segment (collective funds raised to date over USD 4 billion), despite these companies still not reaching full commercial scale. Aurora Innovation and TuSimple are considered the segment leaders, having raised USD 1.1 billion and USD 648 million, respectively, and reaching unicorn status in 2019. Nuro is also included in this segment, raising more than USD 1.5 billion in funding; however, the company is primarily involved in last-mile delivery automation with only a limited presence in the autonomous trucks industry.
Most disruptors operate in the online freight platforms segment, raising more than USD 2 billion in funding collectively. These companies have reached commercial-scale operations, with the majority operating in early or growth stages. Convoy is the highest-funded company in the space, raising USD 666 million as of March 2021 (reaching unicorn status in 2018). KeepTruckin and Germany-based Sennder are other prominent trucking app startups, both having raised more than USD 200 million as of March 2021.
The industry also includes several companies that have been listed or propose to be listed via special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), including 1) Nikola, an electric and fuel cell truck manufacturer that was listed in June 2020 at a post-money valuation of USD 3.3 billion; 2) Ree Automotive, an autonomous truck manufacturer listed in July 2021 through a SPAC at a valuation of USD 3.6 billion; 3) Hyzon, a hydrogen fuel cell truck manufacturer listed in July 2021 through a merger with a SPAC at a valuation of USD 2.7 billion; 4) Einride, an autonomous truck operator that announced it is looking for IPO opportunities via a SPAC in March 2021; 5) Plus, an autonomous truck manufacturer that announced its plans to be listed through a SPAC at a valuation of USD 3.3 billion in May 2021; 6) Embark Trucks, an autonomous truck manufacturer that announced its plans go public through a SPAC merger at a valuation of USD 5.2 billion in June 2021; and 7) Aurora Innovation, an autonomous truck manufacturer that announced its plans to publicly list through a SPAC merger at a valuation of USD 13 billion in July 2021. The autonomous truck operator TuSimple also filed for an IPO in March 2021.
Aurora Innovation (Aurora) is an autonomous vehicle technology startup founded by former Google, Tesla, and Uber executives. It provides autonomous vehicles under two divisions, namely “Aurora Horizon” (its autonomous trucking service) and “Aurora Connect” (its autonomous ride-hailing service). Both are powered by the company’s self-driving technology “Aurora Driver,” which is expected to be feature complete by Q1 2023. In July 2020, the company tested Aurora Driver using Peterbilt Class-8 trucks and Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The vehicles were tested on commercial routes for package delivery in Texas. In August 2021, Aurora launched its “Fusion” next-generation hardware kit to improve the decision-making speed and accuracy of Aurora Driver and enable autonomous vehicles to operate in varying weather conditions. The company also introduced “Aurora Beacon,” a fleet management software in May 2022. The company has its own LiDAR sensor system, “FirstLight Lidar,” integrated into its Aurora Driver technology.
Aurora plans to provide the service to customers on a subscription basis once commercialized in 2024. The company had a fleet of 20 trucks as of June 2022.
Key customers and partnerships
In January 2021, Aurora partnered with the medium and heavy-duty truck manufacturer Paccar to develop and deploy autonomous trucks. The plan is to test autonomous Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks at Paccar’s technical center in Washington and on public roads. The companies expect to deploy the trucks in North America within the next few years. March 2021, Aurora also partnered with Volvo to jointly develop autonomous semi-trucks for the North American market. The prototype version of the truck was unveiled in September 2021.
Aurora has secured several deployment partnerships with companies including FedEx (September 2021; extended in May 2022) Uber Freight (December 2021), Werner Enterprises (April 2022), and Schneider National (August 2022) for delivery pilots in Texas. The company also has partnerships with U.S. Xpress (February 2022) and Covenant Logistics (May 2022) to design deployment strategies and refine its autonomous technology.
Aurora acquired Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), Uber’s self-driving car unit in December 2020, to complement its autonomous technology development. As part of the transaction, upon transferring ATG to Aurora, Uber invested USD 400 million in Aurora, and Uber’s CEO joined Aurora’s board. It has also acquired two LiDAR startups, namely Blackmore (May 2019) and OURS Technology (February 2021), to expedite and complement its LiDAR development process.
Funding and financials
Aurora was listed on the Nasdaq in November 2021 by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), valuing the combined entity at USD 13 billion. For the year ended December 2021, the company reported revenue of USD 83.5 million and a net loss of USD 755.5 million (a USD 1.22 loss per share).
Driving and safety assist tools:
Electric and fuel cell trucks:
Incumbents in the autonomous and alternative fuel truck space are well-established truck manufacturers, with the majority offering self-driving tech as well. For example, Volvo Trucks develops its own autonomous truck dubbed “Vera” while also offering a collision mitigation system called 'Volvo Active Driver Assist.'
Incumbents in the route planning and online freight platforms space include truck stop and travel center companies that introduce their own apps (TravelCenters of America, Love's Travel Stops), as well as other established road travel planning and freight matching companies with separate apps for truck drivers (Trimble MAPS, Zonar, and Direct Freight Services).
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