Toyota invests US$400 million in Pony.ai, bringing self-driving start-up’s valuation to US$3 billion

Sarah Dai

Chinese autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai has closed a US$462 million funding round led by Japanese car giant Toyota Motor, announcing deeper ties as global carmakers race toward a driverless future.

With Toyota’s US$400 million investment, Guangzhou-based Pony.ai will be worth just over US$3 billion, the companies said in a joint statement on Wednesday. China's most valuable self-driving company, founded by two former senior Google engineers in 2016, has launched its robotaxi services in both China and the US.

The two companies first teamed up to conduct joint road tests of autonomous vehicles in China in August last year. The latest investment comes as an extension of this partnership, they said in the statement, adding that they plan to advance their joint efforts to develop autonomous driving technology and deploy mobility services.

“Strengthened ties will enable deeper integration of Pony.ai's autonomous driving system with Toyota's robust vehicle platforms and technologies,” the companies said, calling it a “strategic approach” for both firms.

In addition to co-developing self-driving technologies, the two are expected to “look beyond the vehicle itself to explore further possibilities in mobility services”, according to the statement.

Toyota, Pony.ai team up to build driverless fleet in China

Pony.ai is among a number of autonomous driving start-ups that have taken off in China, competing with not only traditional auto companies but also tech giants like Google, whose self-driving unit Waymo is an industry leader.

Three-year-old Pony.ai has so far been a front-runner among Chinese autonomous driving companies. Photo: Handout

China has made smart vehicles one of its key development areas, drawing billions of dollars of investment over the past few years.

Three-year-old Pony.ai has so far been a front-runner among Chinese autonomous driving companies in terms of miles driven without human intervention, based on an annual report by the California Department of Motor Vehicles last February.

The company also joined forces with South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Group last year to launch robotaxi services in Irvine, California, where local commuters can hail a ride powered by Pony.ai’s self-driving system via an app.

Toyota, the largest carmaker in the world, invested US$600 million in Didi Chuxing last year, and established a new joint venture for mobility services with the Chinese ride-hailing giant.

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