Plus’ SPAC merger canceled, but Amazon deal rolls along

Trucking technology company Plus won’t merge with a blank-check firm as planned, it was announced this week, but the company’s big order from Amazon for driver-assist systems remains intact.

The dissolution of the agreement with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V has “no impact” on Plus’ ability to continue supplying Amazon or other customers with its PlusDrive retrofit product, a company spokesperson said Tuesday.

Amazon ordered 1,000 of the driver-assist systems in February, according to the spokesperson, and Plus has already started delivery. It is unclear how many have shipped thus far.

The order marked a substantial development for Plus, as did the planned merger with Hennessy, a special purpose acquisition company — better known as a SPAC — unveiled in May. The merger would have added $500 million in cash to the company’s coffers and valued it at $3.3 billion.

Citing “recent developments in the regulatory environment outside of the United States,” both companies agreed to terminate the pending deal Tuesday. While neither company elaborated, it is likely the latest company to rethink its initial public offering plans following pushback from China’s government on Chinese companies moving forward with U.S. listings.

Plus, which operates in both China and the U.S., did not rule out renewing discussions with Hennessy in the future.

“We remain optimistic that the parties can once again explore a business combination in the near term that will further advance sustainable transportation,” Daniel Hennessy, CEO of the blank-check company, said in a written statement.

Among the automated-driving companies joining the burgeoning trucking realm, Plus stands alone in pursuing a technology path that envisions driver-assist features evolving into self-driving systems. Competitors such as TuSimple, Gatik and Kodiak Robotics, on the other hand, are all pursuing a commercial path that removes humans from the driving task.

This year, Plus removed the human safety backup from behind the wheel during testing in China. Gatik accomplished a similar milestone in August and has two driverless trucks running along a seven-mile route in Arkansas on a daily basis.

Gatik works with Walmart, while Amazon is a plum customer for Plus. Another ongoing customer for the PlusDrive system is Chinese truck manufacturing FAW. Plus further says it has pre-orders from Chinese fleets such as Rokin, Dhihong and Duckbill. Combined, Plus projects more than 100,000 of its PlusDrive systems will be on the road by the end of 2025.

Plus CEO David Liu said early feedback gathered from Amazon drivers who have experienced the system has been positive.

“So far, it has been tremendously enthusiastic,” he told Automotive News in August. “Our system provides a much better level of driver comfort and much better safety and fuel economy. Our customers are quite happy with what we can deliver.”

Starting late next year, those systems will be augmented with long-range lidar sensors provided by Aeva. The two companies said Wednesday they have reached an agreement on a production contract that calls for the sensors to be incorporated in both Plus’ driver-assist and fully autonomous systems starting in late 2022.

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