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Autonomous startup takes the long road in logistics transportation

Friday, November 1, 2019 - 06:00
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For two years, wrote Bloomberg News, The Office of Inspector General for the USPS had been vetting vendors with the best shipping control and speed. Rising fulfillment expenses has cost the postal service roughly $4 billion dollars a year. They blame the unrelenting driver shortage. Chuck Price, chief product officer at TuSimple told Bloomberg News that operator-free vehicles will shave off hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Asked about TuSimple’s other efficiency promises, Sun replied that a five-day coast-to-coast run can easily shrink to two days. Sun emphasized that retailers and certainly the aftermarket could benefit under a quick turnaround time by passing on the freight bill savings onto the customer.

Forbes magazine identified other Silicon Valley competitors jostling for the No. 1 spot in autonomous driving like Waymo that has been conducting their own road tests. Aurora, which is funded by Amazon through the oversight of a former head of Google’s driving program, has fashioned their version of independent delivery.

For some time, Capstone Financial Group’s CEO Dan Smith has been keeping a close eye on the commercial competition. Smith revealed to Aftermarket Business World how often he communicates with leadership at TuSimple’s about their latest innovations. He bets that this engineer dominated business will bring relief to the driver shortage and unrestrained shipping expenditures. Highlighted in Capstone’s recent study, the American Trucking Association indicated that the need for operators will rise to 174,500 by 2024, roughly five times more than the base of 36,500 people wanted in 2016. A drop in qualified professionals, the report warned, could adversely limit product availability and hurt sales.     

Eliminating drivers could transform this negative trend into a monetary lift, explained Smith, but not to the point where individuals end up unemployed. In fact, at the local level, more job opportunities will be created by placing workers closest to the last mile. Most of the distribution and fulfillment activities would revolve around the busiest hubs with the fastest access to small towns and large urban centers. Without people behind the wheel, wages would drop in line with health insurance, workers compensation, and perhaps fuel expenses will recede. 

Where the automotive aftermarket stands to feel an immediate boost, noted Smith, depends less on TuSimple whose mission is to bring their software expertise to their partners. That burden falls on the carrier to customize a logistics solution that meets industry supply chain requirements. Compared to consumer goods, the auto parts trade is uniquely positioned due to the unpredictability in urgent repairs. Downtime can inflict a negative financial impact on any businesses dependent on their cars and trucks.

For long distance remedies, Vivian Sun emphasized that TuSimple’s team of engineers will stay engaged on producing sustainable ways to shrink waiting times, and to work closely with truck manufacturers in the OE space.

Forbes reported that early in the year that TuSimple raised $95 million from several investor groups, topping off the valuation above the one billion mark. Much of the spend will be dedicated to expanding their line of smart trucks completely integrated with software to interface with steering, braking, and powertrain. Engine supplier Cummings along with heavy duty manufacturers, Navistar and Paccar are jointly collaborating with TuSimple.


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