US driverless lorry company closes in on new funds

Sequoia Capital-backed autonomous heavy vehicle start-up has China’s largest lorry-sharing platform as external shareholder

FILE PHOTO: A line of lorries is seen during a trial between disused Manston Airport and the Port of Dover of how road will cope in case of a "no-deal" Brexit, Kent, Britain January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Sequoia Capital-backed PlusAI is close to raising about $200 million (Dh734.5m) in new funds at a valuation of more than $1 billion to bankroll its development in autonomous trucks, according to sources.

The Silicon Valley-based self-driving truck start-up is working with advisers on the funding round with plans to set up a joint venture with one of China’s largest truck makers FAW Jiefang, a subsidiary of state-owned China FAW Group, the sources said. Plus.AI is seeking external investors to lead this round of funding, in which existing backers Sequoia and Full Truck Alliance will participate, said one of the sources.

The start-up will soon unveil trucks with partially automated driving features, or so-called level 2 autonomous vehicles, the source said.

Founded by a group of Stanford classmates in 2016, Plus.AI counts China’s largest truck-sharing platform - Full Truck Alliance Group - as its external shareholder. It’s set up research centers in Cupertino and Beijing, as it tests prototypes in eastern China’s Jiangsu province as well as California. The company joins a handful of startups trying to upend a fragmented long-haul trucking business with driverless technology.

A representative for Sequoia declined to comment, while representatives for Plus.AI, Full Truck Alliance and FAW Jiefang said they have no immediate comment.

In May, Reuters reported that a driverless electric truck began daily freight deliveries on a public road in Sweden, in what developer Einride and logistics customer DB Schenker described as a world first. Stockholm-based Einride said its T-Pod truck is a level 4 autonomous vehicle that has no cab but can be remotely controlled by a human operator when required.

In driverless systems, level 5 refers to the highest degree of automation, whereas level 2 refers to systems that provide steering, brake, acceleration support, as well as lane centring and adaptive cruise control.

Three-year-old Plus.AI’s goal is to develop autonomous trucks that it can mass-produce and put to commercial use in coming years, the company said in March. It hopes to market the vehicles in both China and the US.

Plus.AI has a tie-up with chipmaker Nvidia, and plans to use the US company’s technology to operate its trucking fleet, it has said.