DeepWay, a Chinese autonomous driving startup backed by Baidu, said on Tuesday that it has raised RMB 460 million (around $67.2 million) in a Series A led by Qiming Venture Partners and joined by multiple veteran investment firms.
Why it matters: DeepWay brands itself as China’s first electric vehicle startup that designs autonomous trucks from scratch for freight delivery, rather than something based on an existing truck model with minor changes, which the company claims leads to more integrated self-driving tech and reduces production costs.
- DeepWay is also the first startup with authorization from Baidu to conduct “white-box testing,” which means it has working knowledge of the latter’s self-driving technology. By comparison, a tester rarely knows much about the internal design and implementation of an autonomous driving system during black-box testing.
Details: Jointly founded by logistics service provider Shiqiao Group and tech giant Baidu in late 2020, the two-year-old firm is now valued at RMB 3 billion by the latest fundraising round, which was led by Qiming, Chinese tech media outlet QbitAI reported, citing company insiders.
- Other investors include Lenovo Capital, an investment arm of the namesake tech titan, and Vlight Capital, an early backer of EV maker Nio, according to an announcement (in Chinese) on DeepWay’s public WeChat account.
- DeepWay said that the “body-in-white,” as automakers call a car’s basic skeleton, of its first truck model, had rolled off the assembly line at its factory in the eastern city of Yancheng in July.
- Small-scale delivery is scheduled for December. The company is targeting sales of 1,000 roborigs next year, when the vehicles will be capable of driving themselves on Chinese highways with a safety driver behind the wheel.
Context: Several autonomous truck companies have gotten off the starting grid early in the self-driving race in China, but the progress towards fully autonomous freight driving has been slow.
- Nasdaq-listed TuSimple reported a $732.7 million annual loss and $6.3 million in revenue in 2021 with the departure of a longtime executive and delayed production of commercial trucks at full driverless Level 4 operation from 2024 to 2025. The firm is reportedly in talks with Geely to sell its China division.
- JD and Meituan-backed Inceptio said in March that it raised $188 million in a Series B+ co-led by Sequoia Capital China and Legend Capital, another of Lenovo’s venture capital arms. The company claimed its self-driving trucks with a human operator traveled 2 million kilometers (1.24 million miles) on public roads in 18 months as of April.