Electronics and Semiconductors

Pony.ai aims for L4 robotrucks in production by 2024

29 July 2022
Pony.ai and Sany will develop robotrucks based on its Sany electric vehicle program with plans to begin testing the vehicles this year and 2023 before production begins in 2024. Source: Pony.ai

Pony.ai, an autonomous driving startup, is collaborating with Sany Heavy Truck, a leading Chinese heavy equipment manufacturer, to develop Level 4 autonomous trucks ready for production by 2024.

The joint venture will start with small-scale deliveries of robotrucks in 2022 and 2023 followed by production the following year. In the following years, Pony.ai expects to reach an annual production of about 10,000 trucks.

The first prototype robotruck built on Sany’s electric vehicle (EV) platform is already undergoing road testing. The joint venture autonomous truck product portfolio will include a mix of new energy vehicles (NEV) and fuel-based with the aim to increase the proportion of NEV trucks in the future.

The trucks will be of automotive-grade and have L4-class redundancies. At Level 4 autonomy, the car assumes all driving tasks under nearly all conditions without any driver attention, however a passenger can take over driving when the self-driving systems are unable to continue.

(Learn about the levels of autonomous vehicles on Globalspec.com)

Why robotrucks are needed

The need for robotrucks comes as the market for logistics is growing quickly due to the growth of e-commerce and on-demand deliveries. The problem is the current drivers in the logistic market are aging to a point of retirement, leaving a massive need for more drivers as well as trucks.

Self-driving trucks are seen as the next step in first-mile shipping and logistics that will help address the nation's current truck driver shortage, which has roughly 50,000 unfilled driver positions. That shortage is expected to grow to 175,000 by the mid-2020s, according to sources in the trucking industry. These autonomous trucks will also help with the increase in demand that is expected in the e-commerce industry, requiring more trucks on the road.

In 2021 alone, heavy truck sales in China exceeded 1.3 million units.

Other factors driving demand for robotrucks include:

  • Rising insurance rates
  • Growing fuel costs
  • E-commerce demand
  • Country-level environmental regulations

Pony’s other projects

Developing robotrucks is just one of the projects that Pony.ai is working on. Earlier this year, Pony.ai became one of two companies that are testing driverless robotaxis in Beijing, China.

The permit to test robotaxis in Beijing allows the company to offer ride hailing without a safety driver present within a 23 square mile area of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone. Pony.ai said it will still have safety drivers in the front passenger seats, but it could deploy driverless vehicles in the future.

Pony.ai was also testing robotaxis in California's Bay Area and it was the eighth company to receive a driverless permit in California. However, plans stalled after one of the Pony.ai vehicles operating in autonomous mode was involved in an accident in the city of Fremont, California.

To contact the author of this article, email PBrown@globalspec.com

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