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Commercial truck-maker Navistar teams with start-up TuSimple to develop autonomous semis

Employees work at the assembly line of International brand commercial trucks, owned by Navistar, at the manufacturing plant in Escobedo, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 29, 2017.Daniel Becerril | AP

Commercial truck company Navistar is partnering with a start-up specializing in autonomous vehicle technology to develop self-driving semis.

San Diego-based TuSimple has been researching and testing autonomous vehicle technology with a fleet of self-driving trucks driving in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Over the next four years, it will work with Navistar, which builds semitrailers, school buses and other heavy duty trucks, to develop a self-driving semi. Production is targeted to begin in 2024.

"Autonomous technology is entering our industry and will have a profound impact on our customers' businesses," Navistar CEO Persio Lisboa said in a press release announcing the deal. "Navistar's strategic partnership with TuSimple positions us to be a leader in developing solutions for our customers by leveraging our organizations' collective expertise to integrate our vehicle design and systems integration capabilities with TuSimple's innovative autonomous technology."

The race to develop self-driving semis has heated up in recent years as truck manufacturers race to be the first with a fully autonomous vehicle. The push is being driven by two factors. First, a shortage of drivers in recent years has trucking companies looking for ways to meet future shipping demands, potentially with driverless cabs. Second, trucking companies believe self-driving semis could help alleviate driver fatigue and improve safety.

Not only are established semi manufacturers like Navistar and Freightliner developing autonomous semis, so are newer players like Tesla, Waymo and Embark. TuSimple has been working on the technology since 2015. It recently struck a deal with UPS and the McLane Co. to build driverless operations in 2021. Now, with Navistar investing an undisclosed amount in TuSimple, the tech firm believes it is moving closer to putting autonomous semis into production.

"We are honored to be partnered with Navistar. The investment in TuSimple and the partnership with Navistar marks an important milestone for our company. With the combined expertise of Navistar and TuSimple, we have a clear path to commercialize self-driving Class 8 trucks at scale," TuSimple President Cheng Lu said in the announcement.

CNBC

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