KEY POINTS

  • Toyota invest $400 million in a Series B to startup Pony.ai
  • Pony.ai and Toyota have already explored a partnership since last year to further autonomous driving into other services
  • Pony.ai's technology aims to achieve Level 4 or high driving automation, which means that little human intervention is required

Toyota invested $400 million to startup Pony.ai as it plans to use autonomous driving technology to its Lexus RX platform.

The Guangzhou- and Silicon Valley-based startup received a total of $462 in a Series B funding round from investors led by Toyota Motor Corporation. The two other investors in the round include IDG Capital and Sequoia Capital China, per Crunchbase. Notably, $400 million of the $462 million comes from the Japanese automaker. And with the startup's new funding, its valuation triples the $1 billion unicorn status that it achieved in October 2019. 

"After this round, Pony.ai is the second-most valuable independent autonomous driving company in the world," a spokesperson for Pony.ai told VentureBeat via email. "We are position[ing] ourselves as a global autonomous driving company, as we're running a business in both U.S. and China."

Toyota and Pony.ai had already formed a partnership since last year to explore autonomous driving services, but the investment by Toyota helps in solidifying the team-up. Pony.ai will utilize the new capital to support future robotaxi operations and technology development, according to Reuters.

Pony.ai was founded by a former executive of Baidu James Peng and Google and Baidu engineer Lou Tiancheng. Peng serves as Pony.ai's CEO, and Tiancheng is the chief technology officer. And their goal with the startup's technology is to achieve "Level 4" or high driving automation, which means that human intervention is minimal. 

Its hardware platform, PonyAlpha, makes use of radars, lidars, and cameras for its cars to see obstacles from up to 200 meters, something that is installed in its fully autonomous trucks and freight delivery solution that started testing in April 2019.

"Going forward, Pony.ai and Toyota will continue to work together to deliver on their shared vision of a safe and sustainable mobility future. The partnership will focus on providing meaningful societal benefit by leveraging the technologies, know-how, and services of each company," the two companies said in a press release.

Toyota's investment in Pony.ai's is just one of the headlining deals with an established automaker looking to leverage on a startup's technology recently. South Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia also teamed-up this month to utlize Canoo's proprietary skateboard design to power future electric vehicles.