While Swedish autonomous truck startup Einride is preparing for their first test trials with German grocery store chain Lidl, I sat down with Einride CEO Robert Falck, who is currently in the US, preparing for a logistics event and talking to potential clients and investors. Falck will also be giving a public talk on Monday, January 8th at Stanford. Registration is free.
Falck, who had been with Volvo Trucks until 2016 and been director of Manufacturing Engineering Assembly for Diesel power-trains, launched Einride together with Filip Lilja in September 2016 to take on the conservative truck market.
Einride is headquartered in Stockholm and currently raising a series A funding round. The company got investment from some angels. The company has 25 employees, all international. Einride’s CTO Pär Degerman was a senior engineer at Scania, heading development.
Einride is preparing their trial with Lidl for Q3 this year, with their electric T-Pod driving along a two kilometer long route from a central warehouse to a supermarket. According to Falck, the traffic on that road is semi-complex, including light pedestrian and car traffic. The level of autonomy is 4, and it must be, as there is not even space for a safety driver on the truck. There is no cabin for a driver. To accomplish this feet the company uses five 77GHz radar sensors, one object and lane detection camera, four Velodyne scanning lidar sensors, and four separate cameras for remote operator assistance. Phantom.ai plans to use a similar approach to help stranded autonomous vehicle passengers. In Einride’s case the remote operator will take over in zones, where Level 4 drive is not possible for the T-Pod.
Falck said that Einride aims at a price point of $500,000 per vehicle. The company has one truck in Sweden getting ready for the tests with Lidl, one truck is in the US, one in production, and several prototype vehicles. Falck is confident that they can already ramp up for production. 2020 the company aims at manufacturing 200 trucks that year.
Einride received a permit to test the vehicle from the Swedish transport ministry. The company is in negotiation with other potential clients.
Truck market is waiting for disruption
According to Falck, the truck market is ripe for disruption. It’s a very conservative business, “stuck in the 90s”, with the competitive edge fought out today by the truck manufacturers on assembly, sales, and gear boxes. The customers are mostly the truckers themselves, who own (lease) the truck, in a business, where the profit margin is between one and two percent. Truck manufacturers are more or less “selling the biggest cabin.”
If truck manufacturers were serious with the coming changes, they’d have to compete with their own clients. Falck believes that the future of trucks is not in the Tesla Semi and big rigs, but in smaller trucks, as the majority of trucks are half empty. He sees the future as well in combination with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Insofar, Falck also doubts the value of platooning. “Putting three trucks behind each other, each of them only a third loaded, doesn’t make sense.”
He stated that the biggest cost factor is not the driver, the fuel costs, the half-empty loads, but the operation hours. A self-driving truck can run without breaks for a human driver and thus decrease the costs significantly.
Einride envisions to become the operator of truck fleets. With the big data generated, smart fleet management can bring down the costs significantly and out-price today’s truck business. Also join Einride’s Facebook-group to discuss autonomous driving technology.
Register for Robert Falck’s talk at Stanford this coming Monday.
This interview has also been published in German.