Pony.ai, an autonomous driving company based in the U.S. and China, said Monday it is now valued at $8.5 billion after a fresh injection of funds.
The funding round and relatively high valuation highlights strong investor appetite for a future of self-driving taxis and cars.
Pony.ai was founded in 2016 and backed by automaker Toyota. The company makes driverless systems that can be used by automakers and is a competitor to the likes of Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet.
Pony.ai has been testing its robotaxis in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and in California. A safety driver is still required behind the wheel.
The start-up has faced some challenges of late. In December, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Pony.ai’s driverless testing permit after one of its cars hit a road center divider and a traffic sign in Fremont.
And last year, Pony.ai halted plans to go public in the U.S. as China continued to tighten regulations on the country’s technology sector, Reuters reported.
The money from the latest cash injection will go toward hiring, investment in research, testing of driverless taxis and trucking, and pushing toward mass commercial deployment, the company said.
Pony.ai’s $8.5 billion valuation is a big step up from its last funding round in November 2020 when it was valued at $5.3 billion.
James Peng, CEO of Pony.ai, said in a statement the funding will also allow the company to “open up a number of new autonomous vehicle global testing and operation sites” and “progress” its strategic partnerships and grow its fleet of cars.
Pony.ai’s finance chief Lawrence Steyn, who was hired last year, said the new money “funds development at Pony.ai several years into the future — in fact, we believe, up to the window for our anticipated launch of mass commercialization.”
Steyn did not say when the company is targeting mass commercialization.
Pony.ai is one of several autonomous driving companies with roots in China attempting to push commercialization of driverless vehicles. Some of its competitors include Alibaba-backed DeepRoute.ai as well as WeRide. Meanwhile, internet giant Baidu has been aggressively expanding its autonomous car fleet and last year won approval to begin charging fares in Beijing for its robotaxis.