According to Torc CEO Michael Fleming, Torc’s pure-play approach to developing self-driving trucks will deliver the first scalable and profitable autonomous trucks to U.S. highways. Pure-play means a very tight focus on three things: one OEM truck platform (Daimler’s Freightliner), one business case (long-haul trucking), and one environment (U.S. interstate highways).

Martin Daum and Michael Fleming

Martin Daum, Chief Executive of Daimler Truck AG and Michael Fleming, CEO of Torc Robotics

Fleming and Daimler Truck AG Chief Executive Martin Daum highlighted their pure-play approach – and their historic first-of-its-kind partnership – at a breakout session during The Information’s AV Summit earlier this month, called Truck Out: Pure Play vs. Boiling the Ocean. [See The Information’s report on the session: How Torc Robotics and Daimler Truck are Approaching Autonomous Trucking.]

When Torc joined the Daimler Truck AG family in 2019, “We were the first AV company to partner with a truck OEM. We believe this set a market trend,” Fleming said. “Torc is fortunate to not only partner with the market share leader in trucking but also to have the backing of Martin and the Daimler Truck executive team, who are absolutely committed to this journey.” He added, “We see other fluffy partnerships with MOUs [memos of understanding], but we believe real partnerships are lasting, and that requires a commitment by the executive team.”


During the session, both CEOs showed how their decisions were focused on moving forward with commercializing a very sophisticated product, which Fleming described as the most challenging engineering project of our generation. Daum discussed the complexities of the software and the misperception that merely installing software and sensors on a truck would work. A commercial Level 4 autonomous truck requires a redundant chassis, where the “data, safety, steering, cooling, and electric performance is completely different from one with a human being.” A chassis is needed that not only includes backup systems but also can sense and handle all situations, which can occur on the road.

A truck driving down a highway

Torc and Daimler Trucks formed the first AV company/truck OEM partnership of its kind in 2019 and are pursuing a pure-play approach to commercializing a driverless truck.

The Torc/Daimler Truck pure-play approach contrasts with other self-driving truck efforts that are developing universal drivers for multiple platforms, installing autonomous systems on vehicles not built for automation, or even moving beyond developing a truck to include moving products taking on the role of the transport company. “We are constantly solving for how to get to this specific product. We believe in product simplicity. A focused, pure-play approach enables us to launch a safe product with less cost, complexity, and technology overhead. This approach creates more value for the customer and positions Torc to set the industry standard in the AV trucking industry,” Fleming commented.

“I am absolutely convinced that Torc will be the first company to a profitable, scalable product in the autonomous truck space,” Fleming said. “I can check all the boxes: we have the right partners, the right business case, the right technology. It won’t be overnight. It will be within the decade, but I’m confident we are going to get there.”

Partnership Model

Both Daum and Fleming described how partnerships provide the foundation for their endeavor. Daum recounted Daimler Truck’s journey as an OEM that understands hardware, power source, cooling, braking, and safety — and was pursuing a process of adding autonomous capabilities through the different levels of automation. “We were on that track,” he said. “We have L2 systems in series-produced trucks making trucking safer.” Going from Level 2 to Level 4 requires a completely different approach, he said.

The requirements are so different, that we decided to build an absolute first-class redundant chassis and work on the other side with someone who really understands software – and that was Torc,” according to Daum.

A truck driving along the hgihway.

In 2019, Daimler Trucks North America introduced the first Level 2 truck in North America, the Freightliner New Cascadia.

Fleming outlined how the Torc team commercialized for defense and mining applications and developed what would later be coined Level 4 autonomous technology by SAE and came to believe that “the only way to commercialize is through an OEM.”

Fleming added that the relationships in the trucking industry are critical, and the AV community typically underappreciates the value of these relationships. “It’s the know-how,” he said.

Torc commercialized autonomous technology to protect warfighters from IEDs and workers in the mining industry.


It’s all about a product

“When you can bring in the domain experts who understand how the trucking industry works, which is far more complex than I initially realized,” Fleming said, “that helps you really construct a more optimized and appropriate business model, such that when you do get to a product, it’s a profitable product.

The Information AV Summit breakout session in full can be found at Truck Out: Pure Play vs. Boil the Ocean.