Chinese startup Pony.ai trying to disrupt driverless car industry

Chinese start-up Pony.ai is trying to take on Google‘s Waymo by taking a measured approach toward autonomous-vehicle technology.

Speaking at CNBC’s East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China, Pony.ai Chief Operating Officer Hu Wen said companies should not “hurry” to win the race for self-driving cars amid safety concerns.

“You have to ensure the whole safety system is there and you have to pace yourself,” he told CNBC’s Everett Rosenfeld Tuesday.

Pony.ai is a self-driving vehicle start-up with offices in China and Silicon Valley. In February, the company secured approval to offer autonomous car rides to members of the public within a 1.7 mile-route in Guangzhou. Hu said Pony.ai is gradually building up its vehicle fleet with nearly 50 self-driving cars offering ride-hailing services in the district.

China’s autonomous vehicle market is racing to keep up with the U.S. industry which includes big players like General Motors and Google parent company Alphabet. Last month, Alphabet’s driverless vehicle unit Waymo became the first company to secure approval to test driverless cars on public roads in California.

“Google is definitely still the world’s number one in autonomous driving,” Hu said.

Pony.ai is also facing fierce competition in China from internet giants Baidu and Tencent, which are both developing their own autonomous fleets. Pony.ai’s distinction is its technology and software solutions, the company says. Instead of focusing on auto manufacturing, it partners with automakers like China’s Guangzhou Auto Group (GAC).

Pony.ai closed a $102 million funding round in July, just six months after raising $112 million. The start-up was founded in 2016 by James Peng and Tiancheng Lou, who both previously worked in the autonomous vehicle units at Baidu and Google.

Hu told CNBC the company has achieved unicorn status with a valuation of just over $1 billion.

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