NIO-backed company Pony.AI announced Thursday a joint venture with SANY Heavy Truck to produce robotrucks in China and the small-scale deliveries are expected to begin later this year throughout 2023. In 2021 heavy truck sales in China exceeded 1.3 million units.
NIO Capital announced an investment in the Chinese startup in late 2019, while Toyota invested $400 million in 2020 as part of a partnership extension.
The fleet will include new energy vehicles (PHEV + BEV) but also fuel-based with the ambition of increasing “the proportion of NEV trucks in the future”. The companies expect to start mass production of the L4 truck in 2024 and an annual production of around 10,000 units “within a few years”. The first prototype of the autonomous truck was built on SANY’s new EV truck platform and has already conducted road testing.
China’s number one heavy equipment manufacturer and the third largest heavy equipment manufacturer globally SANY will use its “technical accumulation in the field of wire-controlled chassis and vehicle development” integrating Pony.ai’s “virtual driver” in the trucks’ development.
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“SANY has industry-leading heavy truck manufacturing technology and is pioneering the architecture of ‘new energy’ heavy trucks, intelligent network connections, and other key areas,” said James Peng, Pony.ai’s co-founder and CEO. “Integrating Pony.ai’s core autonomous driving technologies with the capabilities of SANY enables our joint venture to create a successful intelligent truck and logistics ecosystem for L4 autonomous trucking.”
“This partnership between SANY and Pony.ai is the ultimate collaboration between truck ‘body’ and truck ‘brain’ and thus makes it possible to mass produce high-level autonomous trucks. This partnership, which features complementary strengths and competitive advantages, will advance autonomous trucking and logistics well into the future and will lead to a safer, more efficient, intelligent logistics system,” said Liang Linhe, Chairman of SANY Heavy Truck.
In June, the Chinese startup released its autonomous driving controller (ADC) designed for automotive-grade mass production built on the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin system-on-chip and will fully enable the trucks produced by the joint venture.
“The establishment of this new venture between Pony.ai and SANY is a significant milestone for the trucking industry,” said Rishi Dhall, vice president of Automotive, NVIDIA. “Powered by NVIDIA DRIVE, this next-generation of new-energy autonomous trucks will enable the delivery of goods to address ever-growing e-commerce demands without compromising safety and reliability — while reducing the transportation industry’s dependence on fossil fuels.”
According to Pony.ai’s robotruck operations experience, based on vehicle planning and control as well as route planning, autonomous trucks can save 10%-20% of energy compared with conventional trucks, the company stated.