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Autonomous Driving Startup Pony.ai Raises $267 Million in Latest Funding Round

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【Summary】Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai, which is backed by Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. and is working with the automaker on self-driving technology, has raised another $267 million in its latest funding round. Pony.ai’s latest funding round follows a $462 million investment led by Toyota in February.

Eric Walz    Nov 06, 2020 9:55 AM PT
Autonomous Driving Startup Pony.ai Raises $267 Million in Latest Funding Round
A Pony.ai self-driving vehicle.

Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai, which is backed by Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and is working with the automaker on self-driving technology, has raised another $267 million in its latest funding round, the company told Reuters on Friday.

The company is one of the most valuable autonomous driving startups and the latest funding round values Pony.ai at $5.3 billion.

Pony.ai's latest funding round follows a $462 million investment led by Toyota in February. The startup is also backed by Sequoia Capital China and Beijing Kunlun Tech Co.

The funding round was led by Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board's (Ontario Teachers') Teachers' Innovation Platform (OTPP), Pony.ai said in a statement. The funds will be used to develop technology and expand its fleet of self-driving vehicles.

"The company will explore mobility services with Toyota," Chief Executive James Peng said to Reuters, without providing further details.

A new crop of autonomous driving tech startups including Pony.ai, Cruise and Argo.AI and others are forming partnerships with major automakers in order to speed up the development of self-driving vehicles. The world's automakers are investing billions in the technology.

U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. is working with Argo.AI on autonomous driving technology, while Cruise is working with rival General Motors (GM) to develop the technology. GM purchased San Francisco-based startup Cruise in 2016 for more than $1 billion to jumpstart its own development of self-driving technology.

Pony.ai was founded in Fremont, California in 2016 with the goal of building the "safest and most reliable autonomous driving technology."

Pony.ai and Toyota plan to accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. In addition to co-developing autonomous driving technology, the two companies will look beyond self-driving vehicles and explore additional mobility services, such as commercial robotaxis.

In Nov 2019, Pony.ai became the first company to roll out a robotaxi pilot service in the U.S. in Irvine, California. For the pilot, the company partnered with automaker Hyundai Motor Co. to build a self-driving system for Hyundai vehicles. The pilot served several hundred riders per day until its was paused in March due to the global pandemic. 

Pony.ai alos partnered with New York-based transportation startup Via with "BotRide'', an on-demand, autonomous taxi service operating on public roads in California. The BotRide service using Pony.ai's technology is currently underway in Irvine, California. The pilot serves hundreds of riders per day, the companies said earlier this year. 

Pony.ai also partnered with the city of Fremont, California in February on an autonomous ride-hailing pilot for city employees. Fremont is best known as the home of electric automaker Tesla's U.S. factory.

In May, Pony.ai was granted a permit from local authorities in Beijing to pick up passengers in its robotaxis. The permit allows Pony.ai to carry passengers in its autonomous vehicles paves the way for other companies working on self-driving technology in China to expand their testing and deployment in the world's biggest auto market.

Before testing began in Beijing, Pony.ai has been testing its Robotaxi pilot service called "PonyPilot" since late 2018 in Guangzhou, China. The company claims it was the first to launch a robotaxi operation and offer self-driving car rides to the general public in China.

In an interview with CNBC in Nov 2019, Peng predicted that fully autonomous vehicles that carry passengers will be a reality in the near future.

"If I have to give a number, I'll probably say in five years," said Mr Peng. "We'll definitely see a wide adoption of autonomous driving vehicles—fully autonomous driving vehicles—on the open roads."

On Tuesday, Pony.ai also announced a strategic investment from Chinese state-owned automaker FAW Group to jointly develop autonomous cars and trucks. The amount of the investment was not disclosed but it marks the first time a Chinese state-owned vehicle manufacturer invested in an autonomous driving developer.

resource from: Reuters

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