Pony.ai Hires Its First Chief Financial Officer
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Many companies are competing to make reliable autonomous driving systems that they can sell to automakers. Self-driving startup Pony.ai is a major competitor in this space.
The company recently hired Lawrence Steyn, vice chairman of investment banking for JPMorgan, as its first chief financial officer, according to CNBC. This hire signals that Pony.ai might go public as it advances in the development of autonomous driving technology. Self-driving car startup Pony.ai has seen immense growth
The phenomenal growth of Pony.ai
James Peng, a former executive at Baidu, and Lou Tiancheng, a former engineer for Baidu and Google, founded Pony.ai in San Francisco in 2016. Peng serves as CEO, and Tiancheng is the chief technology officer. The Toyota-backed company focuses on commercializing driverless ride-hailing services and employs nearly 400 workers.
In November 2020, Pony.ai raised $267 million and was valued at $5.3 billion, as reported by CNBC. Pony.ai has been testing robotaxis in California and the Chinese city of Guangzhou that allows the company to gain data to make its technology smarter. Earlier this year, the company received a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test their autonomous cars without a safety driver.
A fleet of more than 200 robotaxis operates out of various locations. Pony.ai intends to launch its fully driverless robotaxi service to the public in Irvine in 2022.
Is Pony.ai going public?
When startups hire CFOs, it can hint towards an initial public offering (IPO). Peng told Reuters after the hiring announcement that company executives and investors are still debating the timing of any public stock offering.
“For autonomous driving, it’s a big opportunity. But at the same time, it’s a long-term, big opportunity,” Peng said. “So it requires a long lead way for spending.”
Peng also noted that developing autonomous driving technology is an expensive and slow process, so all the companies developing the technology are scrambling for capital. Pony.ai should be in good standing after raising $367 million in its last Series C funding round, according to PitchBook data.
Peng said having a CFO will help the company “accelerate its commercial growth and global deployment.” As for the prospects of launching an IPO, “it’s just a different way of raising funds,” Peng told Reuters.
Obstacles for the autonomous driving industry
Developing self-driving technology can be costly for automakers, and vehicles that offer autonomous driving are typically more expensive. Industry leaders also face the challenge of convincing regulators and the general public of the safety of their vehicles.
States and cities have been rushing to fill the regulatory void as autonomous vehicles are developing more quickly than anticipated. The news typically focuses on crashes that involve self-driving technology but not safely driven miles covered by self-driving vehicles. These stories can give an unbalanced view of the risks and dangers of sharing the roadway with driverless cars.
Self-driving vehicles will also have a large impact on the insurance industry and raise questions about who’s at fault in an accident.
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