TuSimple revenue falls short of expectations

TuSimple revenue

  • Revenues for TuSimple, the largest self-driving truck startup in the U.S., “are minimal,” according to Information report.
  • One of the company’s autonomous trucks was involved in a freeway crash last fall.
  • Analyst opinion: “In the end, it’s extremely likely that giant existing companies that are well-capitalized are going to be the ones who own and operate this technology. Almost none of them will be the startups that came along the way.”

TuSimple may be the country’s largest self-driving truck startup, but according to a Wednesday report in the Information, its revenues “are minimal.” 

One of its trucks was also involved in a freeway collision last fall on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix that resulted in an injury, the Information reported. The company confirmed that account to FreightWaves Wednesday morning.

According to fundraising documents reviewed by the Information, TuSimple in 2016 forecast $284 million in revenue from U.S. operations in 2020 and nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2021.

The company anticipated $171 million in revenue this year from its China operation and $776 million next year.  But its current revenue is far short of that amount, the Information reported, although the fundraising documents didn’t provide a specific figure. 

Citing its status as a private company, TuSimple declined to discuss financial details.

But according to the Information, TuSimple continues to project that in 2026 it will generate more than $4 billion a year in profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization from more than $12 billion in revenue.

The company applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of between $2 million and $5 million from the U.S. Small Business Administration to avoid layoffs.

Et tu, TuSimple?

TuSimple is widely perceived as a leader among the handful of startups aiming to automate long-haul trucking. As other startups have struggled to raise funds and laid off workers, TuSimple appeared to be moving full steam ahead. 

With offices in China and the U.S., the company has raised more money than its competitors and just this month announced new partnerships with major logistics companies and manufacturers as well as the launch of a nationwide autonomous freight network. TuSimple has repeatedly claimed it will be the first to put a fully autonomous truck on the road without a safety driver.

In an emailed statement sent to FreightWaves this morning, TuSimple modified that claim slightly, saying the company plans “to demonstrate driverless operations on limited routes starting in 2021.”

That the company’s finances are less than stellar — despite its reputation as the industry’s strongest contender — seems to bear out an observation from Richard Bishop, principal of Bishop Consulting and a leading expert on autonomous vehicles. When FreightWaves asked Bishop to rank autonomous trucking companies in June, he declined.

 “I know industry analysts like to do that, but I’m very skeptical of anyone else’s ranking,” Bishop said. “The amount of [financial] information available publicly on these companies is tiny. Analysts are working on very thin information.”

Michael Ramsey, a vice president in Gartner’s connected vehicle division, made a similar comment about Starsky Robotics, a remote-operated trucking company that shut down in March. “I would have guessed that Starsky was one of the healthier companies,” he told FreightWaves. “Which is why it is very difficult to estimate what is going on.”

The crash

TuSimple was involved in “an incident” on the I-10 freeway in 2019, the company told FreightWaves in the emailed statement. “A collision happened ahead of a TuSimple truck, unrelated to our vehicle. A vehicle in the accident made tertiary contact with the TuSimple vehicle.”

The statement went on, “Safety is at the forefront of every decision our company and drivers make. We worked closely with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Department of Transportation to investigate the incident. ADoT and CVSA have positively recognized TuSimple’s actions and response.”

The report of the collision, revealed nearly a year after the fact, will likely reinforce concerns about safety and transparency in the self-driving sector.

Autonomous vehicle companies today are not required to participate in safety assessments, although they can voluntarily assess their own operations.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent federal accident investigation agency, is now asking regulators to create a process for evaluating the safety self-assessments. That requirement was not included in a  Department of Transportation (DOT) initiative announced in June to improve transparency in the autonomous truck and car industry.

Rocky road ahead

Compared to robotaxis and passenger vehicles, autonomous trucking is viewed as the best use case for self-driving technology, said Ramsey. 

But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a viable business model for startups eager to grab the prize and get to market first.

Referring to a wave of acquisitions that have and will continue to sweep the AV industry, Ramsey said: “In the end, it’s extremely likely that one, two, three, four giant existing companies that are well-capitalized are going to be the ones who own and operate this technology.

“And almost none of them will be the companies and the startups that came along the way.”

Related stories:

Autonomous trucking startups reap millions in PPP loans

Feds announce new AV initiative to improve transparency

Plus.ai partners with Transportation Research Center to test self-driving trucks

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Linda Baker.