Autonomous Driving Startup Pony.ai Completes its Latest $367 Million Series C Funding Round
【Summary】Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai, which was founded in Fremont, California with the goal of building the safest and most reliable autonomous driving technology, announced it closed on a $367 million in a Series C funding round. The latest funding round values the company at roughly $5.3 billion as it looks to launch a commercial robotaxi service in China.
Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai, which was founded in Fremont, California with the goal of building the safest and most reliable autonomous driving technology, announced it closed on its latest $367 million Series C funding round.
The company's latest investment is actually the second $100 million tranche added to the $267 million its raised in November. New investors include the Brunei Investment Agency and China's CITIC Private Equity Funds Management, automotive news website Gasgoo reported on Monday.
Pony.ai is now one of the most valuable autonomous driving startups. The latest Series C funding round of $367 million values the company at roughly $5.3 billion.
Pony.ai is also one of several startups including Argo.AI and Cruise that have formed partnerships with established automakers to accelerate the development of autonomous driving technology. Automakers around the world are investing billions in autonomous driving and related other mobility technology, such as robotaxis and are often tuning to tech companies and startups for assistance.
U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. is working with startup Argo.AI on self-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 in order to jumpstart its own development of self-driving technology.
A year ago, Pony.ai announced a $400 million investment from Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. to expand its collaboration with the automaker on self-driving cars.
Pony.ai has been testing its Robotaxi pilot service it calls "PonyPilot" since late 2018 in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China. Last year, Pony.AI partnered with the city of Fremont on an autonomous ride-hailing pilot for city employees. The city of Fremont is best known as the home of electric automaker Tesla's U.S. factory.
In 2019, Pony.ai became the first company to launch a robotaxi service offering rides to the general public in China. Although Pony.ai was granted permission to test its self-driving vehicles on public roads in China in 2018, it was not permitted to carry passengers last May.
Also in 2019, the company became the first to roll out a robotaxi pilot service in the U.S. in Irvine, California.
For the pilot in California, Pony.ai partnered with automaker Hyundai Motor Co. and built a self-driving system for the automaker's vehicles. The pilot served several hundred riders per day until it was paused in March 2020 due to the global pandemic.
In an interview with CNBC in Nov 2019, Pony.ai Chief Executive James Peng predicted that fully autonomous vehicles that carry passengers in China will be a reality in the very near future.
"If I have to give a number, I'll probably say in five years," said Peng. "We'll definitely see a wide adoption of autonomous driving vehicles—fully autonomous driving vehicles—on the open roads."
China is aiming to be a world leader in autonomous driving technologies, advanced mobility and smart cities, partly to help alleviate urban traffic congestion, especially in large cities like Beijing.
According to a report released by Beijing Innovation Center for Mobility Intelligent (BICMI) on March 2, 2020, a total of 77 vehicles deployed by 13 companies have undergone the road tests of autonomous driving in Beijing from the beginning of 2018 to the end of 2019. The 13 companies drove a total of 1.04 million kilometers (621,371 miles).
Among the 13 companies, Pony.ai's self-driving vehicles completed the second highest number of test miles on public roads with its autonomous fleet of 7 vehicles completing 75,372 miles. The company with the most miles driven was China's internet giant Baidu Inc, which accumulated 893,900 km (555,443 miles) with its fleet.
On Dec. 16, Pony.ai announced on its WeChat social media account that it received a permit in Guangzhou to test autonomous trucks on public roads.
Pony.ai said its autonomous trucks can safely navigate complex driving scenarios as traffic light recognition, obstacle avoidance, lane merging, as well as passing slower moving vehicles.
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