It's hard to keep up with the fundraising spree in China's autonomous driving industry these days. Guangzhou- and California-based robotaxi company WeRide, which counts Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance as one of its strategic investors, has raised over $600 million in just under five months from its Series B and C financing rounds. The four-year-old upstart said in May that its valuation leaped to $3.3 billion in its Series C fundraising. WeRide has kept details of the backing to itself until today when it disclosed the investment was a lofty sum of $310 million from Alliance Ventures, a strategic venture capital fund operated by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, China Structural Reform Fund, a Chinese state-owned private equity fund, and Pro Capital, which manages China's CDB Equipment Manufacturing Funds. It's unclear how much WeRide has raised since its inception as some of its investments were undisclosed.
Autonomous driving startups in China are in an arms race to put passengers in their machine-driven vehicles. Every few weeks, news arrives that another major player has got the greenlight to launch a new pilot program or a small-scale service. These press releases, often dotted with regulatory jargon and flowery language to aggrandize the companies' progress, can be confusing. That's why we put together this post summarizing the progress of China's major robotaxi operators -- AutoX, Baidu, Deeproute.ai, Didi, Momenta, Pony.ai and WeRide -- in 2021 while trying to parse what their announcements actually mean.
For many years now, China has been the world's factory. Even in 2020, as other economies struggled with the effects of the pandemic, China's manufacturing output was $3.854 trillion, up from the previous year, accounting for nearly a third of the global market. But if you are still thinking of China's factories as sweatshops, it's probably time to change your perception. The Chinese economic recovery from its short-lived pandemic blip has been boosted by its world-beating adoption of artificial intelligence (AI). After overtaking the U.S. in 2014, China now has a significant lead over the rest of the world in AI patent applications.
WeRide, a China-based autonomous driving startup, said on Thursday it plans to make its robotaxis available for booking by the public on Guangzhou Automobile Group's (601238.SS) Ontime ride-hailing app by next year. Backed by Nissan Motor (7201.T), WeRide said in a statement it plans to offer test rides for the public at the Guangzhou Auto Show, which begins in the southern Chinese city on Friday. It added that its robotaxi has been integrated into the ontime platform and they were conducting testing. Automakers and technology firms are investing billions of dollars in autonomous driving, aiming to take an early lead in what many consider the future of mobility. On Tuesday, Chinese autonomous vehicle start-up AutoX, which is backed by Alibaba Group (9988.HK) said it had expanded its robotaxi zone in China's southern city of Shenzhen to become the country's largest fully driverless robotaxi zone, at 65 square miles (168 square km).
On Wednesday, LatePost reported that autonomous driving technology company WeRide has recently obtained more than $400 million in a new round of financing, and its valuation after the investment totals $4.4 billion. The investors were existing shareholder GAC Group, as well as new shareholders Bosch, China Arab Investment Funds and Carlyle Group. China Arab Investment Funds also invested in the recent D-round financing of Pony.ai. Other investors of Pony.ai were Mubadala Investment Company and China Development Bank. In terms of valuations, Pony.ai and WeRide are the top two robotaxi automated driving companies in China.