Daimler Steps Up Pace on Self-Driving Trucks With U.S. Deal

March 29, 2019
Virginia-based Torc Robotics develops autonomous technologies and employs about 100 people.

Daimler AG’s truck unit agreed to buy a majority stake in U.S. autonomous technology company Torc Robotics as the world’s biggest commercial-vehicle maker prepares to spend more than 500 million euros ($561 million) on self-driving vehicles in the next few years.

The deal is part of a plan to start running highly automated vehicles on U.S. roads, starting with routes between logistics centers outside of cities, said Martin Daum, the chief executive officer of Daimler’s truck division.

“Freight volumes will increase in the next years and decades,” Daum said. “Automated driving is an important lever to manage this rise in a way that makes sense commercially and for society.”

Daimler’s stake purchase coincides with ZF Friedrichshafen AG agreeing to buy Wabco Holdings Inc. in a $7 billion deal this week. The German parts maker is snapping up semi-autonomous technology for commercial trucks as vehicle manufacturers respond to the shift to self-driving and electric vehicles. Daimler in January said it would offer trucks that don’t need driver intervention within the decade.

“We plan to turn this into a commercial venture in less than this time,” Daum said, declining to outline when testing in the U.S. would start. “Ours and this deal show how the industry is preparing to meet the new challenges.”

Earlier this year, Daimler said it would offer a heavy-duty truck in the U.S. that’s able to brake, accelerate and steer at all speeds on its own. Unlike systems assisting truck drivers that need just two sensors to function, highly-automated trucks will require several dozen, Daum said.

The division has struggled for years to lift returns beyond those of some smaller peers and now is contending with rising expenses to develop self-driving and electric trucks, as well as digital services. The strain from increased spending comes as the U.S. truck market, Daimler’s biggest, is forecast to soften and electric-car leader as Tesla Inc. has foreshadowed the launch of its Semi truck, stoking competition.

Daimler didn’t disclose the terms of the Torc Robotics deal. The amount the company is paying is part of its autonomous technology budget of more than 500 million euros for the next few years. Blacksburg, Virginia-based Torc Robotics employs about 100 people.

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