TuSimple locks in self-driving trucks deal with DHL

Self-driving trucks developer TuSimple has reached a deal to integrate its autonomous vehicle technology into DHL Supply Chain’s operations. As part of the deal, the contract logistics giant has reserved 100 autonomous trucks that are being co-developed by TuSimple and Navistar. The agreement with DHL pushes TuSimple’s total reservations order to 6,875 trucks, the first of which will be delivered in 2024.

TuSimple disclosed that is it already using its self-driving trucks to haul freight daily for DHL on a San Antonio-to-Dallas route. That route is part of TuSimple’s so-called autonomous freight network. The trucks are in autonomous mod, but always have two safety operators within cab, including one behind thee wheel, in case it is necessary to take over.

This autonomous freight network, or AFN, is a mapped network of shipping routes and terminals designed for autonomous trucking operations that will extend across the United States by 2024. TuSimple’s AFN involves four pieces: its self-driving trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a system that will let customers monitor autonomous trucking operations and track their shipments in real-time. For now, TuSimple will operate the trucks and carry goods for its customers.

TuSimple’s long-term goal is to sell its autonomous trucks along with a supporting subscription service it calls TuSimple Path so customers can operate their own fleets. Right now, TuSimple has to be its own operator President and CEO Cheng Lu told TechCrunch. The long-term goal is to become a provider of the autonomous vehicles and supporting services.

“That is the way we believe we can scale the number of vehicles,” Lu said.

DHL is one of a growing number of companies that include UPS, carrier U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway’s grocery and food service supply chain company McLane Inc. that have joined the TuSimple AFN. 

The autonomous freight network, which launched in 2020, now extends from Arizona to Florida. The company is aiming to  to create a nationwide freight transportation network over the next few years. TuSimple is also eyeing an expansion in Europe and Asia. The company is testing its autonomous trucks in Sweden and at the deepwater port in Shanghai.

TuSimple previously said the network would be rolled out in three phases, starting with a focus on a service area in the Southwest where it already operates. Phase 1, which launched in 2020 and into 2021, covers service between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. It has since expanded to Florida.