Chinese robotruck startup Inceptio Technology plans to mass-produce trucks with intermediate autonomous driving functionalities as early as the end of this year, the latest stage in the commercialization of self-driving technology.

Why it matters: Commercial vehicles, including trucks and buses, are viewed as a more achievable application for self-driving technology than private passenger vehicles, and the market has been attracting significant investment.

Details: Inceptio‘s two self-driving truck models, co-developed with Chinese automakers Dongfeng and Sinotruk, are in their final stages of development. Mass production is set to begin at the end of this year, the company said at a press event Wednesday in Shanghai.

  • The new models will be equipped with semi-autonomous driving functions, or Level 3 capabilities, such as lane changing and following the vehicle ahead in traffic jams, according to the company’s technology chief Yang Ruigang, a former Baidu scientist.
  • It will also install a hardware suite capable of being upgraded to Level 4 self-driving capability, Yang added. The rigs will also feature multiple sensors including two Lidars which enable the detection and recognition of objects a kilometer (0.6 miles) away, a capability that competitor TuSimple said it was testing in 2018.
  • Inceptio plans to install its self-driving technology onto more than 80,000 tractor-trailers in 2024. Each truck is expected to travel 250,000 kilometers per year on Chinese highways by that time, allowing the company to compile 20 billion kilometers of driving data per year and helping its push into full vehicle autonomy.
  • A spokeswoman declined to discuss details about the company’s near-term delivery target.
  • Level 4 autonomy refers to a fully autonomous system which can handle emergency situations, while Level 3 still requires that a driver intervene in emergency cases, according to a rating from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

Context: Inceptio is among several local robotruck startups backed by big auto and logistics names. In 2018 it closed a funding round for an undisclosed amount from Chinese battery maker CATL, and Nio Capital, an investment firm formed by the EV maker, and others.

  • The Shanghai-based company last year raised a total of $220 million in two rounds from investors including Singapore-based logistics firm GLP and Tencent-backed fleet management company G7, Reuters reported.
  • TuSimple, a US- and China-based self-driving truck startup, filed for a public listing in February, the Wall Street Journal reported. Morgan Stanley was tapped to lead the IPO, after helping the company raise a $250 million pre-IPO round last year.
  • Toyota-backed robotaxi startup is stepping up its autonomous truck business to attract new investors. The company was granted a license in December by the Guangzhou municipal government in southern China to test trucks on public roads.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen