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Daimler speeds up on self-driving trucks by buying Torc Robotics stake

A driver operates a Freightliner truck on a road outside Las Vegas. Freightliner parent Daimler AG i
Daimler is the world’s biggest commercial vehicle maker. Above, a Freightliner truck.
(Daimler)

Daimler’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 $550 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 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 agreeing to buy Wabco Holdings Inc. in a $7-billion deal this week. The German parts maker is snapping up semiautonomous technology for commercial trucks as vehicle manufacturers respond to the shift to self-driving and electric vehicles. Daimler said in January that it would offer trucks that don’t need driver intervention within the decade.

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“We plan to turn this into a commercial venture in less than this time,” Daum said, declining to outline when testing in the United States would start.

Earlier this year, Daimler said it would offer a heavy-duty truck in the United States that can 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. The strain from increased spending comes as the U.S. truck market, Daimler’s biggest, is forecast to soften and electric car leader 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 it is paying is part of its autonomous technology budget of more than $550 million for the next few years. Blacksburg, Va.-based Torc Robotics employs about 100 people.

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