Pony.ai is riding the gravy train. Just months after it closed a $112 million funding round with Morningside Venture Capital, Legend Capital, and Sequoia China, the autonomous car startup today announced that it has raised another $102 million from lead investors ClearVue Partners and Eight Roads (Fidelity International Limited’s investment arm), putting it close to a billion dollar valuation. It has also secured a permit from the Chinese government to test autonomous vehicles in Beijing, making it one of the first companies to do so.
Pony.ai will use the influx of cash to support existing and new partnerships, grow its team, and “accelerate expansion into low and medium volume [vehicle] deployment,” according to CEO James Peng.
“We are very honored to welcome our new investors to the team and to continue partnering closely with our existing investors,” Peng said in a statement. “I truly believe the next major challenge for autonomous cars will be small- and medium-scale deployment — this is an absolutely critical step to validating the system’s overall stability and reliability. We are grateful for the new and continued support in helping us to achieve this future.”
Since January, Pony.ai has tripled its headcount, conducted pilot tests in the Bay Area and China, and rolled out an autonomous car fleet in Guangzhou, the site of its Chinese headquarters. This fleet has given thousands of rides and covered 19 miles.
But the company has its sights set on a new frontier: Beijing. In June, Pony.ai secured a T3 autonomous vehicle testing license in the city — the highest-level license issued in the country so far — by logging more than 3,107 miles, demonstrating 39 capabilities across six categories of tests, and completing 10 days of “holistic” safety and operations evaluations.
Pony.ai is the second company to be granted a T3 license, after Baidu, which obtained one in March. (Plates have five levels, from T1 to T5.)
Peng, the former chief architect at Chinese search engine Baidu, cofounded Pony.ai in 2016 with Tiancheng Lou, who worked at Google X’s autonomous car project before it was spun off into Waymo. The pair aim to build Level 4 autonomous cars — cars that can operate without human oversight under select conditions — for “predictable” environments, such as industrial parks, college campuses, and small towns, with a tentative deployment window of 2-3 years from now.
Pony.ai’s competition includes Alibaba, which in April confirmed that it has been conducting self-driving car tests with the goal of achieving Level 4 autonomous capabilities, and Tencent, which recently secured a license from the Chinese government to begin testing cars in Shenzhen.
But there’s plenty of money to go around in China’s goldmine of a market. According to a McKinsey report, self-driving vehicles and mobility services in the region are expected to be worth more than $500 billion by 2030, when roughly 8 million autonomous cars hit public roads.
Other new investors participating in Pony.ai’s latest funding round include Green Pine Capital Partners, China Merchants Capital, Redpoint Ventures China, Delong Capital, alongside existing investors Sequoia Capital China, Morningside Ventures, DCM Ventures, and Hongtai Capital. The company has raised $214 million to date.