Volvo Autonomous Solutions Partners with Aurora to Announce New Autonomous Truck: Potential Implications for the Future of the Autonomous Trucking Industry

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By Adhish Luitel | 2Q 2024 | IN-7420

Volvo has partnered with autonomous trucking firm Aurora to roll out a new autonomous truck. With mass production of autonomous trucks now being a possibility, deployment considerations should be made by fleet operators.

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New Formidable Contender in Autonomous Trucking


This year’s Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo was headlined by the announcement of a new autonomous truck that was ready for widespread commercial use. Volvo Autonomous Solutions (VAS), in partnership with Aurora, developer of the Aurora Driver self-driving system, revealed the Volvo VNL Autonomous on the final day of the event.

The vehicle is a Class 8 semi-truck equipped with systems, as well as proprietary Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and imaging sensor technology. The development of this truck comes from a concentrated effort by the Swedish company to expand its operations in commercial and freight transport ventures. Since 2021, Volvo has made investments worth US$72 million in Research and Development (R&D) facilities to research autonomous trucking further. The VNL Autonomous truck is the first major self-driving product developed at this testing facility. This vehicle marks the first endeavor into autonomous trucking by a top 20 automobile manufacturer and will be VAS’ largest product to date, following the beginning of production. The truck will be produced at Volvo’s New River Valley plant in Dublin, Virginia with production slated to begin later this year. 

Mass Production a Possibility


Since Uber-backed startup Otter Trucking first delivered a few thousand cases of Budweiser across the Colorado Rockies on an entirely autonomous vehicle in late 2016, there has been a strong emphasis on exploring self-driving trucks for trucking use cases. The market for autonomous vehicle technology has grown significantly since then, with multiple new startups and substantial financial investments observed. Within the autonomous vehicle space, VNL Autonomous introduces a new dimension of competitiveness that hasn’t existed in this market.

While autonomous trucking fleets have been commercially employed in some form since 2020, they have largely existed within an experimental framework and have been limited by infrastructure constraints. Additionally, mass production viability has served as the biggest roadblock in this industry, as the large number of startups possess limited industry knowledge and lack the resources necessary to scale up their manufacturing lines. By entering the still-nascent autonomous vehicle market with a vehicle ready for mass production, Volvo is poised to capture a substantial share of the growing market.

Companies such as TuSimple, Waymo, and Plus have already established themselves as major players in the autonomous trucking world. A big caveat for these startups is that they lack the manufacturing infrastructure, knowledge, and financial backing that is available to VAS. With the inclusion of this new competition, autonomous vehicle-friendly infrastructure efforts are destined to increase, and existing autonomous trucking providers will be seeking investments and strategic partnerships with similar established automotive players.

Within the retail and greater supply chain and logistics industry, the expansion of autonomous trucking technology presents an exciting opportunity for growth. Currently, the U.S. trucking industry is experiencing a driver shortage, with an estimated deficit of nearly 20,000 drivers. The truck driver shortage is expected to grow to nearly 100,000 by 2030. The growth in autonomous truck deployments provides a potential solution to this growing problem. Additionally, demand for expanded last-mile and fulfillment center distribution capabilities in major retailers has placed more importance on acquiring larger fleet sizes and new transport partnerships. Integrating autonomous trucks into an established fleet is an effective hypothetical method for meeting this demand.

Implementation Considerations


Regardless of whether the VNL autonomous trucks prove to be the breakthrough innovation anticipated for commercial autonomous vehicles or not, this trend represents a growing commitment to a technology that contains massive potential in fleet management. In response to this market development and underlying trends, there are a few major factors for industry participants and stakeholders to consider:

  • Change Management Considerations: Appropriate employee training and education will be necessary to familiarize a company with this new method of transportation, and to integrate the trucks into their own fleets.
  • Policy Changes: The logistics industry and all commercial fleets must be aware of any new regulations or laws regarding autonomous trucking as the technology approaches complete commercial viability. Laws differ by region, country, and state, so fleets will have to be mindful of this.
  • Optimizing Data Utilization: With the arrival of different products and players in autonomous trucking, there comes a significant influx of new commercial data points. Transforming these data points into meaningful and actionable insights will be the in-demand service of logistics solutions or Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithm providers.
  • Broader Implications of Data Interoperability: ABI Insight “Inceptio and Ambarella to Deliver SAE Level 3 as Industry Focuses on Making Autonomous Trucking Work at Scale” talked about how the data collected from autonomous vehicle systems could also unlock new opportunities for consumers. Specifically for fleet operators, increased data points could serve as enhanced input to Transportation Management Systems (TMSs) for further enhanced load, carrier, and route scheduling optimization and real-time tracking and visibility. Autonomous system providers and fleets using autonomous trucks should consider how real-time data around variables like construction on roads, traffic, and weather conditions can be leveraged to improve their own fleet operations, and even be commercialized to external parties and stakeholders by providing updated visibility into routes.

It remains to be seen whether the technology in the autonomous trucking industry has truly reached the level needed for widespread commercial use; however, with the reveal and soon-to-be production of the VNL Autonomous, it appears that the tech may already be there. As the legislation, regulations, and infrastructure develop to meet the new level of technology, there will be massive opportunities for companies that can adapt first, and significant concerns for those that are slow to evolve.


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