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Would Navistar be a good autonomous partner for Kodiak Robotics?

“All of the ladies attending the ball are requested to gaze in the faces found on the dance cards. Please then remember and don’t get too close to one special one. He will take your defenses and run.” — Song by David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills

Navistar has remained quiet about its plans for autonomous trucking since breaking off a two-and-a-half-year partnership with TuSimple in December.

Privately held Kodiak Robotics is emerging as a leader in the shrinking field of autonomous trucking developers. It is working with Tier 1 suppliers who ultimately will produce the automotive grade steering, braking and other systems that driverless trucks will need. But it does not have an OEM partner to integrate all the elements.

I asked Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak, on a recent Truck Tech episode whether he has been talking with Navistar about leveraging the work it did with TuSimple. The thought occurred because Kodiak recently picked up the biggest order to date of Kodiak Driver systems from Loadsmith. The digital brokerage originally planned to use TuSimple autonomous systems.

Truck Tech host Alan Adler, Kodiak Robotics CEO Don Burnette and Loadsmith CEO Brett Suma. (From YouTube)

“At the end of the day, this is a technology that can only get to scale through the OEM,” he said. “I have always said that at the end of the day, OEMs are going to provide the virtual drivers that customers are asking for.”

He thinks demand for the Kodiak Driver system will be strong enough that it will eventually be offered by numerous truck manufacturers.

“The question is really about the timeline. It takes a long time to get this type of technology onto an OEM platform, onto an assembly line where you can just order it from the factory. We’re several years away from that.”

‘A great candidate’

So what about partnering with Navistar in a manner similar to non-exclusive partnerships that rival Aurora Technology has with Paccar Inc. and Volvo Group. With Waymo stepping back, Torc Robotics is more or less exclusive with Daimler Truck. It is also an indepdent subsidiary.

“I think they’re a great candidate,” he said. “Like I said, we expect to ultimately be available on all of the OEM platforms. The demand is going to be driven by the industry itself. I can’t speak for Navistar specifically, but we are in contact with them. We’ve had communications and conversations..

“Navistar has done a lot of work with the TuSimple team and they’ve been working on it for many years. I think they’re definitely a viable platform for a virtual driver like the Kodiak Driver.”

For its part, Navistar didn’t have much to add.

“We are still evaluating autonomous technology partners,” a spokesperson told me.

The original Ghost Rider, a Navistar International LT fitted with TuSimple’s autonomous driving system, completed an 80-mile trek with no human in the cab in December 2021. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Before it ran out of money and sold itself to Applied Intuition for $71 million, Embark Trucks created the Embark Universal Interface intended to work with any major truckmaker’s chassis. It did not have a manufacturing partner, however.

It proved a point of undoing for Embark.

“If you look at the common denominator with the companies that are still in the business, they all have a partnership with a truck OEM,” retired Daimler Truck North America CEO Roger Nielsen told me. “That full integration into the electronics of the vehicle is critical to have success. You can’t reverse engineer your autonomous stack.”

Simulation nation

Last week, we reported on a roundup from the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association of autonomous miles driven on U.S. roadways. Its members — passenger and commercial vehicle developers — have amassed 44 million miles.

Aurora Innovation has achieved many times that number in simulation. The startup this week said it used simulation to look into how the Aurora Driver would have acted in 32 fatal collisions involving tractor-trailers on highways between Dallas and Houston over the last five years..

“We believe the Aurora Driver would have avoided all 29 collisions where it would have been the initiating vehicle,” a spokesperson said in an email.

With simulation, it is hard to know what really would have happened, but it is a sort of proof point on the safety benefits of a virtual versus a human driver. Aurora chose Dallas to Houston  because that is the route it has been using to train its virtual driver ahead of commercialization with no human in the cab by the end of 2024.

Aurora also has been racking up real-world miles. It is making 50 autonomous hauls and logging more than 17,000 commercial miles a week with safety drivers monitoring the system. The more than 1,300 deliveries so far this year exceed total loads hauled in 2022.

Separately, Aurora said in its second-quarter shareholder letter that its recent private and public fundraising brought in $853 million, $33 million more than reported at the ending of the solicitations. Underwriters exercised their option to purchase additional shares. Aurora’s total liquidity of $1.6 billion extends its financial runway into the second half of 2025.

WattEV scores more grants for charging infrastructure

With its first public truck charging depot up and running in Long Beach, California, startup WattEV has a good start on new installations.

The company, which has not announced a capital raise beyond seed funding, secured $40.5 million in two grants for expansion of electric truck stops into Northern California and Oregon.

It received $34 million from the California Transportation Commission for a solar-powered truck charging depot across Interstate 5 from the airfreight hub adjacent to Sacramento International Airport. The project is expected to open in mid- to late 2025.

It will have 15.6 megawatts of solar power supplemented by 7.2 MW of grid power supplied by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. It will have 30 direct current fast chargers for passenger vehicles and 90 high-power outlets charging medium- and heavy-duty commercial electric vehicles.

A rendering of WattEV’s electric charging depot near the Sacramento, California airport that is expected to open in the second half of 2025. (Image: WattEV)

Megawatt charging on the horizon

WattEV is also looking ahead with 18 megawatt cords for pass-through charging of heavy-duty trucks using the upcoming Megawatt Charging Standard (MCS). No current trucks have megawatt charging capability. The Tesla Semi is closest with about 750-kilowatt charging capability.

“We have been strongly pushing that industry forward and our future products still have both CCS [Combined Charging System] and MCS, but really it’s trying to find manufacturers that can commit to that product as well,” Salim Youssefzadeh, WattEV founder and CEO, told me.

WattEV also was awarded $6.5 million from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to build a 6-acre EV charging depot in Salem with electric grid support from Portland General Electric.

Briefly noted …

Nikola made it official Thursday. Its bid to double the number of authorized shares in the electric truck and hydrogen fuel distributor has received shareholder approval. Lots more Nikola news on Friday, including Chairman Steve Girsky becoming the third CEO in less than a year.

Nikola’s headquarters in Phoenix. (Photo: Nikola)

Lithium-ion battery maker Electrovava has secured debt financing for its 135,000-square-foot manufacturing gigafactory in Jamestown, New York.

Connected vehicle platform developer Platform Science and predictive analytics software developer Uptake are partnering to offer Uptake’s software-as-a-service package on the Platform Science Virtual Vehicle Platform.

Navistar has published its 2022 Sustainability Report with highlights of its efforts, including the introduction of its S13 fully integrated powertrain, the last diesel engine the Traton Group subsidiary expects to develop.

Mack Trucks is teaming up with Australian clothing designer Cotton: On to offer an exclusive line of Mack-branded menswear, road-worn designs inspired by Mack’s 123-year heritage.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays. And keep up with the latest Truck Tech TV conversations on YouTube on Wednesdays. Next week’s scheduled guest is Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. He’ll talk about early lessons from the Run on Less – Electric Depot program.

Editor’s note: Corrects fatalities to collisions in item on Aurora Innovation.

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