Autonomous vehicle company Pony.ai is joining forces with Toyota with the ambitious aim of producing “fully driverless robotaxis.” This collaboration is set to begin sometime this year, backed by approximately $139 million in capital from GAC Toyota Motor Co., a joint venture between Toyota China and GAC, a state-owned Chinese automaker.
This investment builds on Toyota’s previous financial commitment to Pony.ai, having invested around $400 million in the company back in 2020. As part of the ongoing partnership, Toyota plans to provide Pony with an unspecified number of its electric vehicles (EVs). In return, Pony will equip these vehicles with autonomous driving technology and integrate them into the company’s “robotaxi network platform.”
While $139 million might seem like a significant investment, it’s worth noting that Pony has raised over a billion dollars since its inception in 2016. The journey has not been entirely smooth for the self-driving developer.
In 2021, Pony began testing driverless vehicles in California, only to have its permit suspended six months later. That same year, the company appeared to scale back its autonomous trucking goals, consolidating its R&D teams and parting ways with a few executives. In the following year, Pony recalled its autonomous driving software and filed a lawsuit against two former employees, accusing them of stealing trade secrets when they left to start a new company called Qingtian Truck. Despite these challenges, Pony has claimed a valuation of $8.5 billion, although no further updates on its valuation have been provided.
Pony’s struggles are not unique in the autonomous vehicle industry. Once a highly favored sector among venture capitalists, the industry has seen a consolidation that has caused many startups, especially in the United States, to falter and vanish. The remaining few, comprising a small group of well-funded companies that are either publicly traded or owned by large corporations, are beginning to expand commercial operations, though at a slower pace than initially anticipated.
The partnership between Pony.ai and Toyota represents a significant step in the ongoing development of autonomous driving technology. By combining Toyota’s automotive expertise with Pony’s innovative autonomous driving solutions, the collaboration aims to accelerate the realization of fully driverless robotaxis, a concept that could revolutionize the future of transportation.