Sunday 22 September 2019

Self-driving truck firm to raise $200m


PlusAI is seeking fresh funding in a bid to develop its driverless truck technology
PlusAI is seeking fresh funding in a bid to develop its driverless truck technology

Vinicy Chan and Lulu Yilun Chen

Sequoia Capital-backed PlusAI is close to raising about $200m (€180m) in new funding, at a valuation of more than $1bn, to help bankroll its development of autonomous trucks, according to people familiar with the matter.

The self-driving truck startup is working with advisers on the funding round, with plans to set up a joint venture with one of China's largest truck makers, FAW Jiefang, the people said.

FAW Jiefang is a subsidiary of the state-owned China FAW Group Co.

PlusAI is seeking external investors to lead this round of funding, in which existing backers Sequoia and Full Truck Alliance will participate, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

The Cupertino-based startup will soon unveil trucks with partially automated driving features, or so-called level two autonomous vehicles, the person said.

Founded by a group of Stanford classmates in 2016, PlusAI counts China's largest truck-sharing platform - Full Truck Alliance Group - as an external shareholder.

It has set up research centres in Cupertino and Beijing, as it tests prototypes in eastern China's Jiangsu province, as well as California.

The company joins a handful of startups who are trying to up-end a fragmented long-haul trucking business with driverless technology.

A representative for Sequoia declined to comment, while representatives for PlusAI, Full Truck Alliance and FAW Jiefang said they have no immediate comment.

In driverless systems, level five refers to the highest degree of automation, whereas level two refers to systems that provide steering, braking and acceleration support, as well as lane centring and adaptive cruise control.

Three-year-old PlusAI's goal is to develop autonomous trucks that it can mass-produce and put to commercial use in the coming years, the company said in March.

It hopes to market the vehicles in both China and the US.

PlusAI has a tie-up with chipmaker Nvidia Corp, and plans to use the US company's technology to operate its trucking fleet, it has said.


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