Volkswagen (VWAGY 2.17%) announced today that it has joined forces with autonomous-vehicle start-up TuSimple to bring self-driving heavy-duty trucks to Europe. VW's truck unit, Traton Group, also bought an undisclosed minority stake in the California-based company. 

This isn't the first deal TuSimple has made with a major truck manufacturer, and there is a connection among all of the parties. 

self-driving semi truck image with images from sensors surrounding it

Image source: Getty Images.

TuSimple already has a partnership with truck and bus manufacturer Navistar International (NAV), which invested in the company, and also plans to collaborate on manufacturing autonomous semi trucks. Traton Group owns 17% of Navistar, and recent reports have said it may be looking to add to that ownership stake. 

TuSimple already operates autonomous-truck hauling routes between Arizona and Texas in the first phase of its autonomous freight network. Phase 2 and 3 include plans to grow the network nationwide by 2023. 

The deal with Traton will be the first to bring its technology to Europe. Initial testing will use Scania trucks for a hub-to-hub route in Sweden. The test vehicles plan to use TuSimple's Level 4 technology, "which can achieve full automation without human intervention under defined driving conditions and applied in all markets," Traton said.

TuSimple was founded in 2015 and has about 45 trucks, the largest fleet of autonomous trucks operating in the U.S. The partnership "accelerates the introduction of autonomous truck technology to new international markets," said TuSimple president Cheng Lu.