James Peng, CEO and co-founder of Tony.ai (left) and NIF CEO Majid Mufti. Pony.aiSource: Pony.ai’s official WeChat account.
NEOM, the smart and sustainable regional development in northwest Saudi Arabia, has injected $100 million into autonomous driving firm Pony.ai via its strategic investment arm NEOM Investment Fund (NIF).
The capital injection comes after the firm clinched the first tranche of its Series D funding round in March 2022 at a valuation of $8.5 billion, without disclosing the financial details and list of investors.
Alongside the investment, NEOM and Pony.ai will form a joint venture to develop, manufacture and deliver autonomous driving services, advanced vehicles, and smart vehicle infrastructure in NEOM and key markets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to a release on Wednesday.
This is not the first time that the firm charted plans in the MENA region, which has emerged as a favourable business location amid rising geopolitical tension between China and the US. The self-driving firm sealed a partnership deal with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to join the Smart and Autonomous Vehicle Industry (Savi) cluster at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, according to a company release on October 20.
Founded in 2016 by James Peng who previously held stints at internet giants Baidu and Google, and Tiancheng Lou, a globally renowned coder who is also known by his handle “ACRush” within the programming community, Pony.ai claims to be the first to operate Level 4 autonomous vehicles in both Beijing and Guangzhou.
Level 4 is considered a fully driverless vehicle that is able to drive by itself without interaction with human drivers. The Fremont, California-headquartered firm operates robotaxi, robotruck, and personally-owned vehicle (POV) business.
Pony.ai’s announcement continues the funding streak in China’s self-driving space that had recorded two megadeals — transactions worth at least $100 million — last week, including Nullmax’s 780 million yuan (106.8 million) in a Series B funding round led by Shenzhen-listed Internet information service provider Shanghai Stonehill Technology.
DiDi Autonomous Driving, the self-driving technology arm of DiDi Global, also said last Thursday that it will bag up to $149 million from state-affiliated investors including GAC Capital, the wholly-owned subsidiary of automaker GAC Group; and Guangzhou Development District Investment Group.