In pursuit of new funding from investors, TuSimple, the self-driving truck company sponsored by Sina, Nvidia, UPS, and Tier 1 provider Mando Corporation, is moving back into the marketplace. According to many people associated with the project, the firm has retained investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it collect $250 million.
Morgan Stanley recently sent prospective investors an information packet, presented by TechCrunch, which includes a snapshot of the firm and an outline of its business strategy, as well as a presentation on why the organization is poised to prosper — all the usual fare for investor-seekers.
TuSimple was refusing to comment. The quest for new funding comes as TuSimple seeks to gear up against a pool of possible competitors rapidly crowded. TuSimple is a special species in the self-driving truck niche category. It was founded in 2015, at a time when much of the autonomous vehicle industry’s interest and money was centered on passenger vehicles and more specifically robotic taxis.
Autonomous trucking existed in relative anonymity before high-profile Google engineers launched Otto, a self-driving truck startup that Uber quickly purchased in August 2016. Startups Embark and the launch of the now-defunct Starsky Robotics in 2016 also. In the meantime, TuSimple grew silently. TuSimple raised $55 million in late 2017 with plans to use these funds to expand training to two full truck fleets in China and the United States. By 2018 TuSimple started operating on public highways, beginning with a 120-mile section of highway between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and another portion in Shanghai.
Others, like Ike and Kodiak Robotics, have arisen over the past 2 years. Even Waymo is pursuing trucks that drive themselves. Waymo has been dreaming about trucks since at least 2017, but after April 2019, when he recruited more than a dozen engineers and the former CEO of troubled commercial robotics company Anki Robotics, his self-driving trucks division started to speed up operations significantly. Amazon-backed Aurora has more recently stepped into trucks.
There are some reasons why TuSimple stands out. It has managed to collect $298 million, estimated at over $1 billion, putting it in unicorn status. This has a large workforce and well-known clients such as UPS. This also has R&D facilities in China and the United States and research activities. Research and production for TuSimple take place in Beijing and San Diego. In Shanghai and Tucson, Arizona, it has research centers.
Because of the current tensions with the US, its relations to and operations in China can be seen as a gain or possible risk. Any of the early participants in TuSimple are from China, along with its founding team. One of TuSimple’s early partners is Sina, founder of China’s biggest microblogging platform Weibo. Composite Capital, an investment company based in Hong Kong and a former developer, is a developer too.
The firm revealed it was committing around $120 million to a Sina-led Series D financing round. New players were included in the round, such as CDH Investments, Lavender Capital and Tier 1 provider Mando Corporation.
TuSimple went on to expand the operations. As of March 2020, the organization was making about 20 autonomous trips with a fleet of more than 40 autonomous trucks per week between Arizona and Texas. Both trucks have an engineer for human protection behind the wheel.