China’s WeRide raises US$200 million from bus maker Yutong Group as autonomous driving race heats up

Che Pan
·3-min read

Chinese autonomous driving start-up WeRide has raised US$200 million in Series B1 funding from China’s top commercial bus manufacturer, Yutong Group, as more traditional vehicle makers look to develop autonomous driving technologies and the industry expects more policy support from the government.

“WeRide is now the only autonomous driving company to obtain strategic investment from leading automakers of both commercial vehicles and passenger vehicles,” the companies said in a joint press release on Wednesday.

Before Yutong’s investment, WeRide had already raised a total of US$207 million from nine investors including the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and Chinese EV maker Xpeng Motors’ CEO He Xiaopeng as of May 1, according to data from PitchBook, which tracks deals in private capital markets.

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The companies said that Yutong’s investment was the “largest-ever investment in autonomous driving made by a leading Chinese automaker”, and that they will team up to promote the commercial use of fully driverless vehicles, including minibuses and city buses, on a large scale.

“WeRide and Yutong Group will engage in extensive cooperation in key domains such as research and development, vehicle platforms and mobility services,” WeRide CEO and co-founder Tony Han said.

One year since it launched robotaxis, WeRide says passenger loyalty is high

The investment comes as more traditional vehicle makers look to find a way into the autonomous driving industry, which has attracted billions of dollars of investment globally – making it one of the key sectors in the fast-growing field of artificial intelligence, where both China and the US are seeking supremacy.

WeRide rival Pony.ai has raised funds from traditional carmakers such as Japanese car giant Toyota Motor and FAW Group, a Chinese state-owned manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks. Chinese internet giant Baidu has also worked with FAW Group, as well as Sweden’s Volvo Cars and US carmaker Ford Motor to develop self-driving car models for China.

Autonomous driving is expected to be a part of China’s 14th five-year plan, which will outline the country’s long-term objectives through to 2035. The country’s transport ministry recently backed the technology as an essential part in building a nationwide smart transport system and said it encourages cities and companies to roll out pilot programmes including robotaxis and V2X (vehicle-to-everything) systems.

In November 2019, WeRide was the first self-driving start-up in China granted government approval to roll out a pilot robotaxi programme in Guangzhou. About a year later, 60,000 users have taken more than 147,000 robotaxi rides, which so far have been provided for free, the company said.

The Guangzhou-based start-up is also moving to expand beyond cars. Even before Yutong’s latest investment, the companies teamed up early this year to develop China’s first fully-driverless minibus, meant to operate on open roads in cities. The bus is a mass-produced model with no steering wheel, accelerator or brakes and can deal with complex urban traffic conditions safely and efficiently, the companies said in the press release.

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