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The world still wants giant autonomous and electric trucks

An electric autonomous truck manufactured by the Swedish company Einride is shown driving on a road through a forest of evergreens.
Image Credit: Einride

Businesses are pouring billions of dollars into the development of autonomous electric cargo trucks to reshape transportation and delivery.

Tesla is apparently now leading the charge in the United States with its decision to spend $3.5 billion on a new plant to build its electric Semi truck in Nevada, according to multiple reports.

But that payout is only the latest in a series of spending pushes by investors and businesses in both Europe and the U.S. to make big trucks more sustainable.

The big, cargo-carrying trucks responsible for moving goods around the U.S. are responsible for about 7% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions alone, according to data published by the Environmental Defense Fund.

Tesla's bet on the electric semi truck is matched by a series of investments from the big Swedish automaker Volvo. The giant automaker placed several bets in startups developing autonomous trucking technology.

Most recently, Volvo invested in the autonomous driving tech developer, Waabi. Think of Waabi as the brains behind an autonomous driving system. It's something that could power Vera, one of Volvo's visions for an autonomous truck.

Back in September, another Swedish company Einride actually rode their autonomous electric trucks into Germany. And in November the same company announced plans to ride into Norway with a €28 million project co-funded by the European Union.

At the beginning of December, the company launched in Europe’s main transportation hub, Benelux, taking a driverless, electric freight road trip into Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Finally, in December, after taking over the highways of Europe, Einride secured $500 million in equity and debt funding to expand its sustainable trucks into new markets from Europe to North America, to the rest of the globe.

As reported on December 7 in TechCrunch, the half-billion cash injection constitutes an equity-based $200 million Series C portion and a $300 million debt funding portion. The Series C round included Northzone, EQT Ventures, Temasek, Swedish pension fund AMF, Polar Structure, and Norrsken VC, while the debt funding was led by Barclays Europe.

This money piles onto the $150 million Einride has raised since its inception, including a 2021 $110 million Series B funding round. With its largest funding round to date, Einride is riding freight trucking’s global market trajectory at high speeds. A recent industry report predicts that the market will expand from $2.1 trillion in 2020 to nearly $3 trillion over the next five years.

“The time is now to act on not only developing but accelerating the implementation of technology that will create a cleaner, safer, and more efficient way to move goods,” Einride founder and CEO Robert Falck said in a statement.

According to the company, in 2019 “Autonomous Gen 2” became the first heavy-duty autonomous vehicle to be operated on a public road. Now, in 2020, the company completed a pilot on a U.S. public road with its autonomous vehicle — the first company to receive approval to do so for a vehicle without a safety driver on board.

While the all-white freight truck is physically driverless, humans are involved at every step through remote operation Einride says. TechCrunch reports that due to regulatory hurdles, the company developed human-driven electric trucks as an intermediary step towards full-autonomy.

These vehicles are already available to shipping companies and carriers in Sweden and in the U.S., powered by its Saga platform that helps clients operate and optimize their fleets. Some of Einride’s major new clients include Electrolux, GE Appliances, a Haier company, and Bridgestone.

Proclaimed as “the clean and efficient way to ship,” and “future-proof” a business, Einride says its clients see a 90% decrease in emissions when switching from diesel trucks to their electric autonomous vehicles.

“We’ve created the Einride ecosystem to provide the most resilient and future-proof approach to electrifying freight today,” said Flank. “With the support from our investors and shared belief in this mission, we’ll continue to drive disruptive change to global freight at scale.”

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