September 23, 2023

Q&A with Stack AV autonomous trucking founder Bryan Salesky


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts — believe in yourself and never give in.” — Winston Churchill

The list of quotes about failure breeding later success is voluminous. Bryan Salesky is probably familiar with many of them. The CEO and founder of Stack AV is taking a shot at Class 8 autonomous trucking with the backing of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp.

Salesky is holding back on a lot of details of his new company, founded earlier this year with longtime collaborators Peter Rander and Brett Browning. The three oversaw Argo AI, a Level 4 autonomous vehicle company backed by Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG once valued at $12.4 billion.

The automakers owned more than 80% of Argo AI and shut it down in October after hundreds of millions in losses.

I spoke with Salesky the day after Stack AV’s Sept. 7 emergence from stealth mode.

Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of autonomous trucking startup Stack AV. (Photo: Stack AV)

TRUCK TECH: What is it they say about startups and failure? You don’t succeed without it, or something like that?

SALESKY: Well, yeah, it’s been an interesting few years. But this is what we do. This is our life’s work. So, we’re not going to be deterred from that.

TRUCK TECH: How many lessons from Argo translate to your new venture?

SALESKY: We’re not getting into anything on Argo. We’re focused on the forward state. What’s neat about this team is that we’ve got a lot of experience in automating just about anything with wheels or tracks.

TRUCK TECH: How much catching up in Level 4 autonomy do you feel lies ahead?

SALESKY: It’s still early days for this industry. No one’s actually scaled anything yet. None of these businesses work unless [they are] able to assemble a team to build a technology. We know how to do that. And [they have to] assemble the capital to see through the various phases of development and actually get to scale. We have that with SoftBank. So, we’re pretty excited about our chances.

TRUCK TECH: Stack is a word that gets tossed around a lot in autonomous efforts. How did you settle on that as a name?

SALESKY: Naming is difficult in any industry, right? But, we came up with a name that I think has both a literal and figurative idea behind it. So, you could imagine moving stacks of material, but you could also imagine that there’s obviously a pretty sizable tech stack that has to be built.

TRUCK TECH: You mentioned your work at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University in the 2000s was pretty far-reaching.

SALESKY: No one was really talking about self-driving back then. But they would talk about the three D’s — dull, dirty, dangerous — as the good first applications for robotics. I led the software engineering for the Cat (Caterpillar) Autonomous Mining program. These vehicles are larger than your house. They are all now into production using the system that we created.

TRUCK TECH: And that translates to heavy-duty trucking?

SALESKY: [We] have learned over the years how to handle and how to build autonomy systems for heavy machinery. And we’ll be able to take that knowledge and bake it into what we’re doing at Stack.

TRUCK TECH: Your announcement was light on details of Stack AV. Any hints?

SALESKY: We’re focused on Class 8 trucks, and there’s a lot of white space even in that category. We’re looking at the business models. There’s really attractive economics throughout that vertical. We’re not getting into the specifics of exactly what we’re going to be automating just yet.

TRUCK TECH: SoftBank is reportedly putting $1 billion or more into Stack. What is their motivation?

SALESKY: AI is a strategic priority for SoftBank. They’re committed to investing in companies across a wide range of applications because they believe in the benefits that AI has to society and solving societal issues. When SoftBank invests, they typically invest big because they understand these are complex, capital-intensive businesses. So for us, the backing of SoftBank, I think, is signal enough that this is both a priority for them as well as something that they intend to see through.

TRUCK TECH: Other autonomous trucking developers have partnered with manufacturers to create redundant chassis. Will Stack?

SALESKY: There is a lot of redundancy that needs to be built into these trucks. Many of the vehicles in production today don’t necessarily have all of the equipment that you need. That creates the question of how do you accomplish that? We’re formulating our view on that. We’re certainly looking at a number of options, and partnering would be one of them.

A rendering of a Stack AV autonomous truck. (Image: Stack AV)

Hyliion gets its Hypertruck ERX powertrain certification

Hyliion Holdings hit a critical milestone to being able to sell its Hypertruck ERX natural gas-powered electric powertrain with the approval of the California Air Resources Board. (CARB).

Actually, Hyliion and engine provider Cummins Inc. received a Dual Executive Order certifying the Hyliion powertrain meets California environmental requirements when paired with the Cummins’ ISX12N natural gas engine.

This is a big deal because it qualifies Hyliion to count in the Advanced Clean Trucks and Advanced Clean Fleets mandates in the state that will phase out new diesel-powered trucks by 2035. The first 30 Hypertruck ERX systems will be sold in California, where they qualify for a 75% credit under the ACT rule and 100% under ACF.

Approval has a ‘limited shelf life’

However, the win has limits. Cummins is retiring its 9-liter and 12-liter engines in favor of a new 10-liter engine. Hyliion already was planning to move the ERX to Cummins’ 15-liter natural gas engine, which goes into production next year. 

“CARB is not going to extend the 12-liter certification into 2024,” Hyliion CEO Thomas Healy told me. “This has a limited shelf life, but it tees up the certification of the 15-liter as well. Once you go through one, it’s a lot of duplicative carryover into the next. It shows CARB is approving of this solution and so when the 15-liter does come, we’ll get that certification as well.”

Until then, Hyliion can ship to 47 other states. It is bypassing Hawaii and Alaska.

Hyliion’s product progression moves to its Karno generator technology acquired from General Electric, but that has more development ahead and is initially planned for stationary power applications. A prototype hydrogen fuel cell truck with Hyzon Motors is in track testing. It is similar to other hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks. Healy’s skepticism of hydrogen adoption remains.

“The next step here is to figure out ‘Do fleets really want it?’” he said. “That’s something we’ve got to go through with Hyzon now that the truck’s done. Hydrogen adoption is going to be very specialized.”

Hyliion received a Dual Executive Order from the California Air Resources Board allowing it to sell its Hypertruck ERX powertrain system when paired with Cummins’ 12-liter natural gas engine. (Photo: Hyliion)

Briefly noted …

Nikola has named a new president of its energy business, starting work days ahead of the commercial launch of the electric truck maker’s Class 8 hydrogen-powered fuel cell truck.

Hyundai Motor and Georgia Tech will work together to develop young engineering talent in hydrogen and sustainable mobility for the South Korean automaker’s meta plant under construction near Savannah.

Traton Group’s Scania has opened a new battery plant in Sweden where battery cells produced with Northvolt will be assembled into modules and battery packs.

Peterbilt is partnering with Transition Overwatch to help former military transfer their skills into service technician careers.

Hydrogen infrastructure developer Hexagon Purus will open a new vehicle integration facility in Dallas, creating jobs for up to 250 skilled workers.

German self-driving startup Fernride has raised $50 million in Series A funding to increase the use of its “human-assisted” autonomous freight trucks in customers’ logistics yards.

Coke Canada Bottling Ltd. unveiled the first of six Volvo VNR Electric trucks that will join the “Red Fleet” customer delivery routes throughout Greater Montreal.

What runs on electricity and is red all over? The first Volvo VNR Electric truck that Coke Canada Bottling will use for customer deliveries around Montreal. (Image: Volvo Trucks North America)

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays. And catch the latest episodes of Truck Tech on FreightWaves’ YouTube channel.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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