Startups Venture

China-based VCs Back Pony.ai, An Autonomous Vehicle Startup, With A $112 Million Series A

Morning Report: Pony.ai has raised a huge swath of money, putting it in competition with established giants in the autonomous vehicle space.

As Alex and others have noted in their examination of the autonomous vehicle industry, the current state of the space is defined by partnerships, mostly between large, curious tech companies and ambitious automotive manufacturers. And those who win out may be those who strike the best cocktail of money, technological knowledge, and manufacturing capacity.

However, over the weekend, one young competitor emerged. Hailing from Silicon Valley and Beijing, Pony.ai brought in a total of $112 million dollars in Series A funding. The round was led by Shanghai-based Morningside Venture Capital and Beijing-based Legend Capital, which according to Crunchbase data, invest mostly in China-based companies.

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Investment in Pony.ai demonstrates that investors are betting that there is still room for smaller players in the game, despite major companies—Uber, GM, Lyft, Google, and a hoard of others—taking interest. Chinese-based VCs are also demonstrating their ability to direct extremely large amounts of money toward the autonomous driving sector.

Pony.ai was founded in 2016 by Tiancheng Lou and James Peng. Lou was introduced to the autonomous vehicle industry while working at Baidu. Similarly, Peng found the industry while working as a programmer at Google on it’s autonomous car project pre-Waymo.

The two aim to bring their knowledge and expertise together to produce a fully functioning Level-4 vehicle, which is meant to operate autonomously in many, but not all, driving scenarios. According to Techcrunch’s coverage of the funding event, the pair aims to place vehicles into suburban areas first, where congestion is limited, and to then build a network of connected autonomous car neighborhoods.

The company certainly aims to put its new money where its mouth is. TechCrunch reports that the startup plans to roll out cars in Guangzhou where the government has been “very supportive of autonomous cars.” Pony.ai has also released videos showcasing their technology. We are curious to see where the money can take them, and if their independent, focused strategy will enable them to avoid the IP drama that has plagued companies like Uber and Waymo in the more mainstream autonomous vehicle industry.

From The Crunchbase Daily:

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Boxed, the startup for buying food and household items in bulk, is reportedly in talks with supermarket chain Kroger about a potential $500 million acquisition. Other retailers are also expected to be making bids for the five-year-old, New York-based company, which has raised over $130 million in venture funding to date.

Auto1 raises $560M from SoftBank

SoftBank invested $560 million in Auto1, a Berlin-based online used car marketplace, in a deal that values the six-year-old company at over $3.5 billion.

Pony.ai nabs $112M for self-driving cars

Pony.ai, a startup founded a little over a year ago to develop autonomous driving technology, has raised $112 million in a Series A funding round led by Morningside Venture Capital and Legend Capital.

Texas deal flow slows

Deal flow in the Lone Star State saw a marked slowdown in the final quarter of 2017, with just 34 startups disclosing funding rounds. The number of dollars raised was also the lowest Q4 total in three years, Crunchbase News reports.

In other news, catch up on startup funding trends for Q4 and 2017 with our recaps of Crunchbase analysis of venture funding globally and for the U.S. and Canada.