The Six Five On the Road with David Liu, CEO of Plus

By Patrick Moorhead - February 24, 2023

On this episode of The Six Five – On The Road, hosts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead sit down with David Liu, CEO of Plus. Their conversation covers:

  • Plus’s efforts toward safety, sustainability, satisfaction, and scalability
  • The competitive landscape in the autonomous transportation industry
  • Challenges in the transportation industry surrounding the adoption of new technologies, and how Plus is meeting those challenges
  • Plus’s partnership strategy in such a highly regulated industry
  • Market growth opportunity in the automated trucking industry

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Daniel Newman: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Six Five On the Road podcast. Daniel Newman here, principal analyst, founding partner at Futurum Research. Joined by my always esteemed co-host, Mr. Patrick Moorhead, here in Santa Clara, California.

Patrick Moorhead: I know it’s great to be here, and I have to tell you, we have been on the road a lot, but there’s nothing I like better than having great conversations with the most important CEOs of some of the most impactful companies. And with that, I would love to introduce CEO of Plus, David Liu. David, thanks for coming on the show.

David Liu: Thank you for having me.

Patrick Moorhead: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, we appreciate you, first of all giving us a On the Road studio because we never really know what we’re going to get. And so coming here to Santa Clara, basically the tech hub of the world, love the chance to sit down, spotlight what’s going on. And for Pat and I, we also love getting in front of new interesting companies, different problems and challenges. And you are in an industry that is very close to one that we spend a lot of time with, but you’re solving big problems for transportation and trucking. And hopefully we can get under that a little bit with you today.

David Liu: Yes, look forward to it.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. By the way, just a little backstory here. We did start the day in getting this incredible demonstration. Daniel and I climbed into one of the Plus powered trucks, filled up and got on the highway. And went from highway to highway and it was literally autonomous when it was on the highway. Essentially cars came in to the lanes, it slowed down, gave right of way. There was a wide load that was ahead, it would creep a little bit to the right.

Daniel Newman: The nudge. The nudge.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. No. We even hit traffic where literally, it was essentially driving itself in there. And it’s one thing to do it in a car, it’s an entirely different experience to do it in a big truck. And I think we were in a Peterbilt.

Daniel Newman: An 18 wheeler Peterbilt. I laid in the back and I took a little video of the cars going by, and I tweeted out, “In an autonomous powered truck.” A lot of people got worried because I didn’t explain that there was a driver. So David, quickly let’s just do an introduction to everybody. We already told everyone you’re the CEO of Plus, but a little introduction, a little background, and tell everyone about Plus because not everybody yet knows the name.

David Liu: Sure, sure. So, I’m David Liu. I’ve been in the field of engineering for the last 30 years. I’m an engineer by training. I love engineering. I love taking technology and make it apply to real world, solving real world problems. And this company is called Plus. Part of our product that we can do today is we’re able to utilize our AI technology and make driving a lot more sustainable. We save about 10% fuel using our technology. We make driving a lot safer for our drivers and make their job a lot easier.

As you probably experienced this morning, once a truck is equipped with Plus drive technology, the driver essentially transform themselves from a driver to a pilot. This is really the power of technology to enable us today. And we’re fortunate that we’re in a time where technology has that power to really apply value to an industry that’s super, super important for our daily lives. A lot of goods, 70% of goods in the US are transported by trucks, and we’re able to utilize the technology to make transportation industry much better.

Patrick Moorhead: One of the things that I feel distinguishes the company from others in a macro point of view is that you’re not doing PowerPoint slides, you’re not putting out vision videos. I mean, you may be, but you’re actually powering trucks today on the highway. Is that right?

David Liu: That’s right. We look at our value at not just creating the best technology, but how do we utilize that technology to create value today. So, we look at the things that we do in four S’s, so starting with, it’s safety, it’s satisfaction, it’s sustainability, and scalability. So, what that means is we make trucks a lot safer, we make transportation a lot safer. We make drivers a lot more satisfactory. We make their job a lot easier. And we’re much more sustainable compared to the technology that’s available today. We make the fuel efficiency to be 10% better than average. And lastly, but not least importantly, we’re doing in a very, very scalable fashion. We’re applying the technology today.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I like that a lot. And Pat, you kind of said it about PowerPoints, this wasn’t a company where we came in and you kind of told us a story behind the curtain at the big event of, “Oh my gosh, look at the truck rolling downhill.” Real truck, we got to go out on a ride. I know it’s a little funny, but it’s true. We got to go out on a ride, we got to see it. We watched the driver because it’s still driver in the loop, and see the impact and the intelligence. And we also obviously got to experience using multiple sensor technologies, which we’re both big fans of. But I guess I do want to ask you, there are a lot of companies right now doing various stages of autonomy and ADAS, you’re talking about these next waves. How do you see the competitive landscape? Because I guess when I think about passenger, there’s lots of players. When I think about trucks and especially like you said, available today, there’s not much out there.

David Liu: That’s right. So, if you look at what’s historically been happening, if in the autonomy space you have some folks traditional focused on ADAS, those are safety enabled features. Very, very important. But that field has been going on for a long time and there needs to be some innovation on the technology side. And then you have some folks, including us, work on truly bleeding edge technology like driverless sort of trucking, like autonomy, fully autonomous trucking. The technology is there in the sense that we can start to show some demos and pilots. We’ve actually in the past years have done some demonstration of driverless trucking in a very limited sense.

But how do we utilize that technology to actually apply it to today’s problem? How do we solve at scale? So, there is this new segment that’s starting to form and people are paying a lot more attention to this, what we call highly automated driving. It really can transform a truck into more like an airplane, like a pilot situation, where the machine can do a lot of things, but while keeping the driver in the loop. So, that market is fast growing. That’s a market we’re focusing on to providing a scalable product for the trucking problem we have today.

Patrick Moorhead: So, you’re saving lives, you’re saving fuel, you’re making employees happier at a time when it’s really hard to get truckers. This seems like a no-brainer to me, particularly because you can retrofit these trucks and that’s what you’re doing today. Why isn’t this going a lot faster? Because I think back in the green room, you talked about a payback in terms of, was it 18 months?

David Liu: Yeah, 18 months.

Patrick Moorhead: 18 month payback. And that just seems like something that is very provocative, and by the way, adding all of these benefits. Why isn’t this going quicker?

David Liu: Well, why isn’t it going quicker? Mostly because any adoption of new technology takes time. So, if you look at some of the other comparable technology happening historically, for instance, automatic manual transmission, AMT technology. The technology has been available for a decade before it finally took off in 2013. But from the time it took off to the time… The penetration rate for AMT in 2013 is about 5%. By the time it took off to the time it gets over 90% penetration rate in new trucks, five years.

Patrick Moorhead: And just for the viewers and listeners, AMT is basically automatic transmission.

David Liu: Yeah. So, automatic transmission saves fuel, it’s easier to drive, it solve all the problems. Why does it take that long? Because it takes a long time to educate the market. It probably also takes some time for the entire ecosystem for our suppliers, our partners, to also get ready to roll out their products in volume. So, that will take a little bit time. But the good news is we’ve already starting to place the market. Some of the leading fleets are already using our product. We’re working with many of these leading fleets, including Amazon. What they’ve been looking at is how do we apply this technology to our fleet today? So, we’re helping them to retrofit their existing fleet to make it working today. And then they’re putting the requirement on to the rest of the ecosystem, to the rest of supply chain, including some of the truck manufacturer asking them about the feature. So, we’re also working with many OEMs in pre-installing our function, our technology onto their trucks to be rolled out.

Patrick Moorhead: That’s cool.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. You talk about Amazon, by the way. I mean, that deserves a look, just like a stop pause command. I mean, early in your existence, that kind of relationship can often be the difference maker of much faster trajectory and not. We all know the way e-commerce is going, that we’re not going to be able to go a day in our lives without seeing an Amazon truck on the road. And so the ability to help them is also good for their ESG efforts and sustainability efforts and safety, all the things we talked about, four S’s, brilliant. Love it. But I guess as we sort of wrap up, you said something about partners, you mentioned Amazon’s specific fleet.

But what I see in being from the trucking era, my father is a trucker, I told you this in the backstage, in the business, is Plus needs to win at the level of the truck makers, so the big ones, the Navistars and the Peterbilts, and then they need to win with the fleets, the rest of the fleets. Talk about your partnership strategy a little bit, how you are getting in. I know you may not be able to mention names, but how do you do that? Because this is a regulated industry, it takes time, there’s a lot of compliancies, you move to L4, there’s even more compliance. So, how do you get tied in and make sure you’re locked in for those design wins long term? It’s a long question.

David Liu: So, we start off with end users, with the fleet. And typically we look at the more forward-looking, more technology-savvy type of fleet. Amazon, I mean they’ve been a leader in the space where looking for the best safety technology, looking for technology that makes their drivers the safest and they’re driving a lot easier. So, they’ve done a lot of work in that space. So, it’s not a surprise we get the first adoption from customers like that globally, including on the US side in the Amazons of the world. And then we also look at fleets in Europe as well as in China. So, those are two of the three largest markets out there. We do have a global operation, so we look at how do we see the market with market demand to prove out there is a product market fit. So, we’ve done that in the past few years.

And along with that, then we’re going upstream to the truck manufacturers because these are the guys building the technology into their trucks. This is how we can achieve scalability. So, we work with all the major OEMs, truck OEMs out there. So, in China we have a strong partnership with FAW, who’s the largest truck manufacturing in the world. We have a joint venture there to supply our technology to truck manufacturers in China. We have a partnership with Iveco. They’re large truck OEM in Europe. And we have announced a product roadmap rolling out our autonomy solution in Europe. And in the US we’re working with many other OEMs, which name I can’t announce yet, but to roll out the similar product. Now, these efforts with OEM tend to take a longer time because it’s a bigger requirement in terms of validation and in terms of scaling up the production. But we’re envisioning the products that will be coming out in two years, that there will be product released.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, the market uptake on automobiles, passenger cars with ADAS has been off the charts. People talk about auto sales going down. But even with all the supply chain challenges, ADAS equipped have been going on, and in stratospheric. Partially because it’s a smaller business with a high growth curve, but also because people want these solutions. So, what is the market opportunity that Plus has in the automated technology for trucks?

David Liu: So, what we see is in HAD market, the highly automated driving market for trucks, this market is going to grow in the next 10 years from a billion dollar to about 30 billion over the next 10 years. And we hope to contribute a significant portion of that market growth opportunity.

Patrick Moorhead: That’s great.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. So, I think we can kind of wrap it up on that because that’s a big highlight moment. But just for everyone out there, you’re talking about a market that’s going to grow 30 times over the next several years. And Plus along with Tesla, I mean, are two of the big names out in this space. And what you’re building from a retrofit and being in market today to the future is you’re probably the most proven product in existence in the market today. And that’s something to be really proud of, David.

David Liu: Thank you.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, David, appreciate you coming on the show, and we hope to chronicle every one of your big moves as we go into the future. And I know there’s a lot more that you haven’t told the public than you’ve told the public, and I’m really looking forward to that coming up. So, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, cheering you on, really appreciate it. Everyone out there, check out the show notes below. We’ll put some links where you can click, learn a little bit more about Plus, probably have a few tweets that Pat and I put out there on our adventure. I will be honest, I am all about technology, but was a little nervous, always a little nervous around the big rigs even though I grew up with them. But very exciting, some of the most important technology in our lives because he gets us all our stuff. So, David, thanks for joining the show. Pat, fun to be here in Santa Clara, by the way. We’re on our way out. We’ll see everybody later. Thanks for tuning in. Bye-bye now.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.