TuSimple may sell US business as it turns attention to Asia

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Self-driving truck developer TuSimple may sell its U.S. business, the company said in a regulatory filing Wednesday.

TuSimple, which is on the verge of being delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange for failing to file two quarterly reports, said it is exploring strategic alternatives for its U.S. business, including a possible sale.

The company also has operations based out of China and Japan, and has been doubling down on those in recent weeks. In June, TuSimple started testing its self-driving technology on public roads in Japan and also completed its first fully autonomous — meaning no human driver behind the wheel — test run on public roads in China.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, TuSimple said that if it sells its U.S. business, it would focus its operations in Asia-Pacific and other global markets. This is something of an about-face for TuSimple. Since going public in 2021, TuSimple has staunchly identified itself as an American company with operations abroad, despite its founding team and earliest backers coming from China. The company was even mulling the sale of its Asia-Pacific business after facing regulatory scrutiny over its ties to the country, and ended up firing then-CEO Xiaodi Hou over TuSimple’s relationship with Hydron Motors.

In May, TuSimple said it would no longer be selling off its Asia business. Instead, the company set about its second round of layoffs in the last six months, both of which affected only U.S. employees.

“At a very high level, I think the idea that we want to separate the two operations has been on for some time,” CEO Cheng Lu told TechCrunch in a video interview from TuSimple’s Tucson office. “Many years ago when we first started having operations in both places it was seen as a positive to create value for shareholders. Now I think the geopolitical risk, or perceived geopolitical risk, and the management-employee time commitment to manage these things outweigh some of those potential values of having both operations.”

Lu went on to say that autonomous freight has a huge market potential globally, which is being fueled by favorable regulations to promote self-driving across Asia and Europe. For example, Japan is considering launching a dedicated self-driving lane on the New Tomei Expressway that will be fitted out with sensors, cameras and 5G networks.

TuSimple is also considering Western Australia, where mining operations require long-haul truckers to drive through the large expanse of the Outback, and Western Europe, which Lu says is developing favorable self-driving regulations.

Since initially exploring the sale of the Asia business, both the market and TuSimple’s progress in the region has shifted, said Lu. Focusing TuSimple’s energy on “more defined geographies” rather than stretching itself too thin is one way the company thinks it can maximize shareholder value in the long term.

TuSimple said it hired Perella Weinberg Partners as a financial advisor to explore possible transactions for its U.S.-based portion of the business. The company isn’t in any talks with potential buyers yet, but Lu said TuSimple has attracted interest over the years. A sale could take a variety of forms, said Lu. TuSimple could sell the whole U.S. business – which includes an R&D center in Tucson and headquarters in San Diego – or a majority.

Lu said TuSimple is not planning to start auctioning its assets just yet, as peer Embark has begun to explore after laying off the majority of its staff in March.

The executive also caveated that a sale is not inevitable – it is merely an option that TuSimple is looking into. But if TuSimple were successful in selling its U.S. business, Lu said the company would likely relocate its headquarters from San Diego to another global hub, like Singapore. The goal is not to be a full Chinese company, but rather a global one with operations in APAC and Europe, said Lu.

Selling off the U.S. business also wouldn’t affect TuSimple’s status as a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq. That status is uncertain for TuSimple, though. The Nasdaq held a hearing with TuSimple last week to determine if the company would be delisted, but the results have not yet been announced. TuSimple said it is actively working to get back into compliance.

TuSimple shares closed at $2.31 Tuesday, about 3% higher before erasing most of those gains in after-hours trading. Shares fell 2.6% following the announcement.

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