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Autonomous trucking startup Embark to go public in $5.2B SPAC deal

·2-min read

Five-year old self-driving truck startup Embark Trucks Inc. said Wednesday it would merge with special purpose acquisition company Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. II in a deal valued at $5.2 billion.

Embark takes a different approach to autonomous trucking: As opposed to manufacturing and operating a fleet of trucks themselves, which is the route rival TuSimple is taking, Embark offers its AV software as a service. Carriers and fleets can pay a per-mile subscription fee to access it. The company includes carriers Mesilla Valley Transportation and Bison Transport, and companies Anheuser-Busch InBev and HP Inc., among its partners.

Carriers purchase trucks with compatible hardware directly from OEMs, so Embark says it has designed its system to be “platform agnostic” across multiple components and manufacturers. The company says its software can simulate up to 1,200, 60-second scenarios per second, and make adaptive predictions using those scenarios for the behavior of other vehicles on the road.

Embark said in an investor presentation for the SPAC deal that it was targeting “driver-out,” or operating on roads without a safety driver, by 2023 and launching at a commercial scale across the American sunbelt the following year. However, Embark still has technical milestones yet to achieve, noting in the presentation that the software still needs to accomplish actions, such as interactions with emergency vehicles and responding to blown tires and other mechanical failures.

Upon closing, the transaction will inject Embark with around $615 million in gross cash proceeds, including $200 million in private investment in public equity (PIPE) funding from investors, including CPP Investments, Knight-Swift Transportation, Mubadala Capital, Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global Management.

Embark also said former Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was joining its board, likely a boon for a company operating in the autonomous trucking industry, which is still only authorized for commercial deployment in 24 states.

Embark was founded in 2016 by CEO Alex Rodrigues and CTO Brandon Moak, who worked together on autonomous driving while completing engineering degrees from Canada's University of Waterloo. After launching out of Y Combinator, the company quickly went on to raise $117 million in total funding. That includes a $15 million Series A led by DCVC (DCVC was also the largest investor in the company's seed round), a $30 million Series B led by Sequoia Capital and a $70 million Series C led by Tiger Global Management.

The transaction is anticipated to close in the second half of 2021. The company joins competitor AV trucking developer Plus in going public via a SPAC merger. TuSimple opted for a traditional initial public offering in March.

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