Autonomous vehicle development company Pony.ai is set to partner with Toyota with the ambitious aim of producing a fleet of “fully driverless robotaxis” for the Chinese market.
The collaboration is expected to commence this year, backed by approximately $139 million in capital provided by GAC Toyota Motor Co. This joint venture involves Toyota China and GAC, a Chinese state-owned car manufacturer.
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This investment continues Toyota’s support of Pony.ai, following a $400 million investment in the company in 2020. In the next phase of their relationship, Toyota plans to supply Pony with an unspecified number of electric vehicles (EVs). Pony will then equip these vehicles with its autonomous driving technology and integrate them into its “robotaxi network platform.”
Partnership Aims for Fully Driverless Robotaxis: Toyota and Pony.ai Join Forces
While $139 million might seem like a significant sum, it is worth noting that Pony has raised more than a billion dollars since its inception in 2016. The journey has not been without challenges for the autonomous-driving innovator.
Pony initiated driverless vehicle tests in California in 2021 but had its permit suspended six months afterward. That same year, the company appeared to downsize its autonomous trucking aspirations by merging its R&D teams and parting ways with several executives. In the following year, Pony recalled its autonomous driving software and initiated legal action against two former employees for allegedly stealing trade secrets when they departed to create a startup named Qingtian Truck. Concurrently, Pony asserted its valuation at $8.5 billion, although no further updates on this figure have been provided.
Challenges and Prospects: The Evolving Landscape of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry
Pony’s struggles reflect broader challenges in the autonomous vehicle sector. Once celebrated by venture capitalists, the industry has experienced consolidation, causing many startups, especially in the United States, to falter and vanish. However, a handful of well-capitalized companies that are either publicly traded or owned by major corporations are beginning to advance commercial operations. This progress is happening at a more cautious pace than initially projected.
The partnership between Toyota and Pony.ai exemplifies a broader trend of collaboration and investment, aiming to overcome the complex challenges of autonomous driving technology. By joining forces and committing substantial resources, both companies are demonstrating confidence in the potential for driverless vehicles to transform transportation in the near future. The joint venture also signifies Toyota’s ongoing commitment to the Chinese market and its pursuit of cutting-edge automotive technology.
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