Driverless car and AI firm, Pony.ai, has reached a $5.3 billion evaluation after it raised $267 million in a new round of funding.
The Chinese start-up, which says it has raised more than $1 billion in its four-year existence, said the financial injection would go into research and development.
Pony.ai is the brainchild of Chinese entrepreneurs James Peng and Lou Tiancheng. Founded in late 2016 and co-located in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, Pony.ai is a global leader in the technology central to driverless automobiles.
Since 2016 the firm has attracted several heavyweight investors, including $400 million in funding from Toyota and key partnerships with Bosch and Hyundai.
The latest round of funding was led by TIP – an innovation fund associated with the Ontario Teachers’ Pensions Plan Board. TIP focuses on late-stage venture investments and growth equity investments for companies that deliver ‘disruptive technologies’.
Pony.ai is working on what it has described as an ”agnostic virtual driver” which will be able to operate in small personal vehicles and large trucks. For the past two years, the start-up has been working with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers to apply its technology to the long-haul trucking sector.
Driverless technology was in the news recently when the German automotive giant, Mercedes, announced its withdrawal from the autonomous driving race in late October.
Mercedes, and in particular its flagship S-Class series, has been at the forefront of automotive technology – their cars were the first to feature ABS, padded steering wheels, seatbelt pretensioners, electronic stability programmes, heated seats and cruise control as standards.
Howeve,r driverless technology will not be an S-Class first. According to the German media outlet, Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, the automaker no longer ‘believes it can win’ the race for a fully autonomous vehicle and has stopped its pursuit of the technology.
‘Robotaxi services’ have been in beta testing in Shanghai and Guangzhou in some form since 2018. Pony.ai wants to start pilot programmes in Irvine, California, and Freemont but has put those plans on ice while the US struggles to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
American research firm, McKinsey, expects the autonomous car industry to be big business for China. The group forecasts that two-thirds of all kilometres travelled on Chinese roads in 2040 will be by driverless vehicles – becoming a trillion dollar industry.