The autonomous vehicle technology company, Aurora Innovation, has set its sights on launching a groundbreaking “driverless” self-driving trucks business by the end of 2024. However, recent actions have resulted in the layoff of several employees, according to sources. This news has been confirmed by the company, stating that 3% of its workforce was affected after a thorough organizational review at the beginning of the year.
Aurora, based in Pittsburgh and with facilities in California, Colorado, Texas, and Montana, had a workforce of approximately 1,800 by the end of 2023.
“As we move towards our commercial launch, we conducted a comprehensive review of our organization to ensure we are working effectively and efficiently towards achieving our ambitious goals,” says Aurora’s senior vice president of people, Cristopher Barrett. “In the process, we had to eliminate a limited number of roles, impacting 3% of our total workforce. We have been extremely considerate during this time of market uncertainty and are providing support to these individuals during this transition.”
This reduction in workforce comes as Aurora continues to push forward with plans to introduce a fleet of self-driving trucks capable of navigating U.S. highways without a human driver. The company aims to have up to 20 driverless Class 8 trucks on the road by the end of 2024. The initial route for these groundbreaking trucks will be between Dallas and Houston. This route has been utilized for testing purposes.
In addition, Aurora has also partnered with automotive supplier Continental on a project worth more than $300 million to mass produce autonomous vehicle hardware for commercial self-driving trucks. The first phase of this project has been completed, enabling Continental to work on developing prototypes in preparation for production in 2027.
The development of safe autonomous vehicle technology for public roads has proven to be a costly undertaking, resulting in several startups being either acquired or shutting down. This industry-wide consolidation began in 2020 and continued well into 2023 due to economic challenges.
Aurora, which was founded in 2017 by former employees of Tesla, Uber, and Waymo, chose to pursue the path to public markets to raise the capital necessary for commercialization. In 2021, Aurora became a publicly-traded company after merging with a special purpose acquisition company formed by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus, and managing partner Michael Thompson.
The company has emerged as one of the few remaining in the race to commercialize self-driving big rigs. Other players include privately-held Kodiak Robotics, Torc Robotics, and Sweden’s Einride. However, the road to success has not been without its challenges. The significant cost of employing engineers to develop this pioneering technology combined with economic headwinds has caused strain on capital.
In 2022, a memo written by Aurora’s CEO and co-founder, Chris Urmson, highlighted a range of options to reduce costs and generate cash, including a hiring freeze, asset spin-offs, small capital raises, going private, and even selling the company to well-known tech giants like Apple and Microsoft.
The company assured investors that it had enough funds to last until mid-2024. While some cost-cutting measures were implemented, the company received a significant boost in July 2023 when it completed a capital raise of $820 million through a public and concurrent private offering of its stock.
Investors were told that this stock sale would support the company until its planned commercial launch at the end of 2024 and well into 2025. Aurora reiterated its financial position in its third-quarter 2023 earnings report, stating that its total liquidity of $1.5 billion will sustain its planned commercial launch and fund operations until the second half of 2025.