Self-driving startup Tusimple is looking to raise $250 million in a funding round which will support plans to remove safety drivers from its robotruck fleet as early as 2021, a person close to the company told TechNode.

Why it matters: The funds would be critical for the company’s expanding efforts to commercialize its technology. However, its valuation is now so high that most venture capital firms have been deterred, said two people with the knowledge of the matter.

  • San Diego-based Tusimple has been viewed as the player with the most potential in the self-driving truck sector, achieving unicorn status with a valuation of $1 billion after closing its Series D1 early last year.

Details: Tusimple is seeking to add $250 million to its war chest, appointing investment bank Morgan Stanley which recently sent proposals to potential investors on why the company is poised to succeed, TechCrunch reported Friday citing people familiar with the matter.

  • A person close to the company confirmed the fundraising efforts to TechNode on Tuesday, adding that the AV startup intends to close the pre-IPO funding round within the next six months for a possible US stock market listing as early as 2021.
  • Tusimple did not respond to request for comment.
  • The company is looking to start offering driverless freight delivery services in the US next year along with partners such as auto supplier ZF, CTO Hou Xiaodi recently told Chinese media.
  • Hou added that it currently operates a fleet of 50 trucks with logistics centers in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, Texas.
  • It has been running a pilot cargo service since last March, partnering with UPS to test self-driving trucks on a stretch of highways between Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona.
  • The US logistics giant took a minority stake in the company months later as part of its $215 million Series D closed last September.
  • The AV startup in March announced it was doubling the number of trips in its service for UPS to 20 round-trips in Arizona and Texas per week.
  • Speaking with Chinese media in late 2018, CEO Chen Mo said it plans to launch a combined fleet of 1,500 roborigs in US and China in 2021, and poised for IPO after 2021 when safety drivers are completely removed.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen