Japanese-based vehicle giant Toyota Motor Corp has invested US$400 million in autonomous driving business Pony.ai, which is based in Silicon Valley, California, and Guangzhou, China.
Toyota has been working with Pony.ai since 2019 on public autonomous vehicle testing. The new investment will see Toyota and Pony.ai “co-developing” mobility products like “mobility services.”
The fundraising, which totalled US$462 million, values the three-year-old Pony.ai, already backed by Sequoia Capital China and Beijing Kunlun Tech Co, at slightly more than US$3 billion.
The investment by Toyota comes at a time when global car makers, technology firms, start-ups and investors – including Tesla, Alphabet Inc’s Waymo and Uber – are pouring capital into developing self-driving vehicles, Reuters reported.
Over the past two years, 323 deals related to autonomous cars raised a total of US$14.6 billion worldwide, according to data provider PitchBook, even amid concerns about the technology given its high cost and complexity.
Pony.ai, co-founded by CEO James Peng, a former executive at China’s Baidu, and chief technology officer Lou Tiancheng, a former Google and Baidu engineer, is testing autonomous vehicles in California, Beijing and Guangzhou.
The firm is focusing on achieving “Level 4”, or fully autonomous standards, in which the car can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances with no human intervention.
Pony.ai already has partnerships with auto manufacturers Hyundai and GAC.
It has been testing robot taxis in Beijing and Guangzhou since late 2018 and in Fremont and Irvine, California. Pony.ai says it is the first company to launch an autonomous ride-hailing operation and offer self-driving car rides to the general public in China.
Toyota, which sold more than 10 million cars globally last year, has invested in a venture with SoftBank Corp and an investment in robotaxi developer Uber ATG. Last year, it invested US$600 million in Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing and a new joint venture to develop mobility services.