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By Nick Carey
(Reuters) - Truck fleet operator Ryder System Inc and Gatik said on Tuesday they will build a national U.S. autonomous short-haul, "middle-mile" logistics network for Gatik, a Silicon Valley self-driving startup, to deliver goods to business customers.
Ryder's corporate venture capital arm RyderVentures has also invested in Gatik's latest funding round of $85 million that was announced in August.
Gatik works with Walmart Inc and Loblaw Companies Ltd to deliver goods to retail stores from warehouses using autonomous trucks with safety drivers - though in Arkansas is already running some driverless deliveries.
As part of the partnership, Gatik will lease a fleet of medium-duty trucks from Ryder - initially around 20 vehicles in the Dallas area.
Gatik will add its autonomous driving systems to those trucks, which will transport goods to retail locations from fulfillment centers or "dark stores" — distribution centers catering to e-commerce business.
Ryder will also service and maintain Gatik's leased trucks.
"The significance and importance of this partnership is that it enables us to expand our footprint nationwide," Gatik Chief Executive Officer Gautam Narang told Reuters.
Miami-based Ryder has worked to build up self-driving expertise.
Ryder manages and maintains a test fleet for Waymo Via, the self-driving truck unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc.
Self-driving truck technology company TuSimple Holdings Inc is using Ryder's maintenance sites as terminals to help it expand its U.S. autonomous freight network.
And self-driving truck technology developer Embark Trucks Inc has teamed up with Ryder to launch a U.S. network of transfer points to support Embark's coast-to-coast autonomous operations.
Embark is merging with blank-check firm Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. II.
"We want to be a leader in understanding how this all works," said Karen Jones, Ryder's chief marketing officer. "Ultimately, getting in early with these customers is the best way to do that."
(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)