Waymo, UPS, others pressure Gov. Newsom to allow autonomous trucking in California

By Rebecca Bellan, TechCrunch

Waymo, Aurora, UPS and Luminar are among a group of 34 autonomous vehicle developers, California business organizations, and automotive and logistics companies that have signed an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to revisit the California Department of Motor Vehicles’s 2015 prohibition on the operation of autonomous trucks in the state.

California began regulating autonomous vehicles in 2012, and has been the key battleground state for robotaxi operations. Late last week, Cruise began charging for fully driverless rides, and Waymo recently opened up driverless testing for employees in San Francisco. Despite opening up AV regulations to larger AVs for the purposes of delivery in 2019, the DMV’s regulations continue to exclude autonomous testing or deployment of vehicles weighing more than 10,001 pounds.

Texas, the state that’s getting all of Silicon Valley’s tax refugees, has been home to most of the nation’s autonomous trucking operations, with companies like Waymo Via, Aurora, Kodiak Robotics, TuSimple and more either testing or operating commercial partnerships. Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada and Colorado also have testing and deployment regulations for autonomous trucks.

California has been a leader in regulating lightweight autonomous vehicles, specifically for robotaxis, but those behind the letter to Newsom argue that without updated autonomous trucking regulations, the state will fall behind on technological progress and business opportunities.

“Without regulations to permit this technology, California is at risk of losing our competitive edge,” reads the letter. “As the industry deploys new pilot programs, builds critical infrastructure, and creates the 21st century jobs California’s businesses need to grow, investment is limited to other states that allow deployment of autonomous trucks.”

The letter sites a recent study released by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation, an advocacy group with a mission to maintain Silicon Valley’s place as the international capital of tech innovation, that finds automated trucking in California could increase the state’s economy by $6.5 billion or more and generate up to 2,400 new jobs.

In states where autonomous trucking is legal and regulated, AV companies are not only testing and deploying their tech, but they’re also setting up the infrastructure needed to operate a commercial service.

For example, Waymo Via has been doubling down on its transfer hub network in Texas, which allows the company to engage a mixed automated and manual trucking approach that ensures the Waymo Driver, Waymo’s AV stack, sticks to main thoroughfares and human drivers handle first and last mile deliveries.

The letter was signed by a range of industry advocates, from AV tech companies like Waabi, Embark and Einride, to logistics companies like DHL Supply Chains, UPS and US Xpress, to members of various California chambers of commerce and more.

Neither Newsom’s office nor the DMV responded to TechCrunch in time with comments.

California recently passed the SB 500, a law that dictates any light duty autonomous vehicles operating in the state would have to be electric by 2030. While Monday’s letter to Newsom says signees would welcome the opportunity to work with the governor’s office to develop a regulatory framework around autonomous trucking in the state, the group is more focused on getting the green light to put heavy duty trucks on the road rather than ensuring autonomous trucking in the state is done with zero emissions vehicles from the get-go.

“Part of the problem here is that we’re at a standstill, meaning that nothing can happen,” Peter Katz, president and CEO of Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, told TechCrunch. “So when you talk about should they be electric, or should they be gas-powered, it’s almost way too far in advance of a question. First, we got to figure out what the requirements are in order to be able to reply to those intelligently. In the view of businesses, this is a logjam that really needs to go away so all other things can open up and start flowing.”

The letter sent to Newsom on Monday follows a similar letter to the governor that was written by a group of seven California legislators and sent in May. That note requested information from the administration on steps the DMV has taken to understand emerging heavy-duty AV trucking technology and its implications in California; why California has lagged behind other states on AV trucking regulation; and when the DMV will commence the rulemaking process for heavy-duty AV trucking and by what date will it have such regulations complete.