Robotaxi startup is now valued at $8.5 billion – TechCrunch

China-US-based said on Monday its valuation has risen to $8.5 billion after the first close of its Series D financing round, a sign that investors continue to hunt for a space where massive deployment of autonomous fleets is still years away.

Founded in 2016 and backed by Toyota, Pony is among a group of robotic axi startups that have established testing and operational presence in both China and the US; others that have done so include WeRide, Deeproute, and AutoX. Pony was last valued at $5.3 billion at the end of 2020.

The new price tag is remarkable given some of the hurdles the company has faced over the past year. Several key members of the autonomous trucking unit have resigned to join new rival companies following an unpopular management decision to merge Pony’s trucking and robotic axi teams. The company’s transportation operations in the US have since been shut down, although it is still expanding its transportation operations in China.

In a different turn of events in December, California suspended Pony’s driverless testing license after a collision.

As China’s regulatory control over its tech companies tightened, Pony reportedly had to ditch his plans to list in the US, shortly after bringing a former JPMorgan Chase executive on board as chief financial officer.

Building robotaxis is notoriously money-intensive, but Pony said it’s well-funded. Trucking is also widely seen as a faster path for autonomous vehicle startups to generate revenue compared to robotaxis. After the Series D-1 round, Pony said it now has nearly $1 billion in “balance sheet liquidity.”

Pony has not disclosed how much it has raised from this infusion, but said it will release more information as the entire round concludes.

With a global team of more than 1,000 employees, Pony is testing autonomous vehicles in four major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen) and in California’s Fremont and Irvine. The robotic axis may also begin charging passengers in a pilot zone in a Beijing suburb, along with Baidu’s autonomous driving fleet.

As for the use of the proceeds, CEO and co-founder of the startup James Peng noted in a statement: “Our technical development and balance sheet strength go hand in hand to enable us to significantly expand our workforce by 2022, a number of new global test and operational sites for autonomous vehicles, enhancing our strategic partnerships and rapidly growing our fleet.”

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