Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup founded by two ex-Google engineers, announced a dramatic expansion of its physical footprint. The company said it will spend $40 million building a production facility and test track for its fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles. Both facilities will be located in southern Nevada, which in recent years has become a hotbed for manufacturing and testing for the future of transportation.
Nuro, valued at $5 billion, was founded in 2016 by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, two veterans of the Google self-driving car project that would become Waymo. It is one of the few companies today that operates fully self-driving vehicles – that is, vehicles without safety drivers behind the wheel – on public roads. His R2 vehicle is about half the width of a compact sedan, shorter than most cars, and there’s no room inside for human passengers or drivers.
The R2 is an updated version of Nuro’s original R1 prototype, with about 50 percent more capacity (which translates into about 18 extra shopping bags). The company plans to produce its third-generation vehicle at its Nevada plant once it is fully operational in 2022.
The new 125,000-square-foot plant will have the capacity to build “tens of thousands of vans,” Nuro said. The vehicle’s powertrain, which includes the electric motor and battery, will be made in the US by BYD, a Chinese company that is one of the largest electric vehicle manufacturers in the world. Nuro says it will develop all autonomous software and digital infrastructure “from servers in the United States to ensure security and privacy.”
Nuro says his $40 million investment will translate into $2.2 billion in “economic impact” for Nevada within 10 years and result in the creation of 250 jobs. In April, the Reno Gazette Journal reported that Nuro will receive $170,519 in tax credits from Clark County over 10 years. In exchange for the tax break, the company will create about 60 jobs within five years at an average wage of $28.80 an hour, the paper reported. The company also filed last September to receive an estimated $500,000 in tax credits from the Nevada Governor’s Economic Development Board over a 10-year period, a spokesman said.
Once the company’s manufacturing facility is operational, Nuro will require a closed course to safely test and validate its vehicles. (As an example, Waymo uses a former central California Air Force base that it originally leased in 2012.) Nuro said it is “acquiring” 74 acres of Las Vegas Motor Speedway to build a “world-class closed-course” testing facility that will provide advanced development and validation of its autonomous vehicles on the road.”
According to a spokesperson, Nuro will take over the entire speedway for its test facility. The track was closed in November 2020 due to COVID restrictions, but has since reopened for events. The South Point 400 race is currently scheduled for September 24 and 26.
The test track is also expected to be operational in 2022, after which Nuro plans to put its driverless robots through a series of tests, including “avoidance of pedestrians and pets to give bicycles space on shared roads, as well as environmental testing and vehicle systems validation.” “
“This is an important moment for Nuro,” Zhu, co-founder and CEO of Nuro, said in a statement. “Building on our tremendous momentum – including strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Domino’s, Kroger and FedEx and operations in three states – we are now able to invest in the infrastructure to build tens of thousands of robots.”
The company is relatively unknown compared to its autonomous vehicle rivals, mainly because of its focus on delivery rather than transporting human passengers in robotaxis. Still, Nuro has made incredible strides in regulation, becoming the first company to receive a special exemption from certain federal safety requirements and recently got the green light to charge for its California deliveries.