TuSimple, a listed company that develops self-driving trucks, regularly conducts highway trials in Japan, marking its entry into the island nation, the company announced on Tuesday.
Tests on Japan’s Tomei Expressway, which connects Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, suggest TuSimple is doubling down on its Asia-focused business. In December, the company shared with TechCrunch its intention to sell its business based in China after facing regulatory control in the United States on ties with China. TuSimple has since backtrack in May, said it planned to continue operations in the area.
Japan represents a ripe market for TuSimple as the country opens up to self-driving vehicle testing. The Japanese government amended a law in April 2022 to allow Level 4 autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads, the government’s response to a chronic labor shortage caused by Japan’s aging population. (Level 4 is a designation by the Society of Automotive Engineers this means the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving under certain conditions without human intervention.)
Earlier this year, the Nikkei financial newspaper reported that Japan plans to launch an autonomous lane on some sections of the new Tomei Expressway, which runs parallel to the Tomei Expressway, by 2024 and will enable commercial operation of L4 autonomous trucks in 2026. The lane would be equipped with sensors and cameras to monitor road conditions, as well as 5G networks.
“Self-driving technology is a promising solution to the driver shortage problem facing the Japanese logistics industry,” Cheng Lu, president and CEO of TuSimple, said in a statement. “We aim to actively establish business partnerships with local companies and develop the technology that will meet local customer demand.”
TuSimple positions itself as a US-based company, but it has subsidiaries in China, Hong Kong and Japan, according to regulatory filings. The company’s work in Japan began in 2021 when the company completed a series of validation and safety testing work on its AV system using a local Japanese OEM’s truck. Regular testing on the Tomei Expressway began in January 2023, according to the company.
TuSimple has shared some details about its testing in Japan. The company did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for information on the number of trucks involved, the stretch of highway it plans to test on, or the OEM partner TuSimple is working with in Japan. TuSimple also did not specify the days or times it plans to conduct freeway testing. A Youtube video the technology demo shows day and night trips.
The company also did not explain the significance of its new focus on Japan. The move could signal a shift away from US-based operations. Last month, TuSimple laid off about 330 employees, all of whom worked for TuSimple in the United States, to preserve cash and stay in business. This restructuring followed a 25% off workforce in December, which also only affected American employees.
These layoffs came weeks after TuSimple agreed to co-develop purpose-built autonomous tractor-trailers with Navistar collapsed, which put the company’s other business partnerships in jeopardy. Last year, TuSimple saw nearly 7,000 reservations for Navistar-built trucks, including from customers like DHL Supply Chain. As part of this agreement, TuSimple promised to deliver 100 self-driving trucks at DHL, with the first to be delivered next year. TuSimple has neither confirmed nor denied the status of this agreement, nor disclosed a new OEM partnership to develop self-driving trucks.
TuSimple is also facing delisting from the Nasdaq for failing to file its last two quarterly reports on time. The company obtained a temporary reprieve of the Stock Exchange, pending a hearing which should take place in the month. TuSimple has not commented on the write-off or the status of its late earnings reports.