Betting on China’s driverless future, Toyota, Bosch, Daimler jump on board Momenta’s $500M round – TechCrunch


Across the road from Suzhou North, a high-speed railway station in a historic metropolis close to Shanghai, a futuristic M-shaped constructing simply catches the attention of anybody passing by. It homes the headquarters of the five-year-old Chinese autonomous driving startup, Momenta.

Like different main Chinese cities, Suzhou, which is legendary for its serene canals and classical gardens, provides backed places of work and coverage assist to draw high-tech corporations. It appears to have chosen effectively. Momenta exceeded $1 billion in valuation in two years and have become one of many most-funded driving firms in China. The startup has a blinding record of buyers, from Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures and the federal government of Suzhou, to Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler.

Momenta just lately closed one other huge round, which nears $500 million and lifts its whole funding to greater than $700 million. The funding marks an vital step towards the agency’s worldwide enlargement, its chief of enterprise growth Sun Huan instructed TechCrunch. In just a few months’ time, Sun will head to Stuttgart, the German hometown of Mercedes-Benz, and open Momenta’s first European workplace.

The new funding, a Series C round, was led by Chinese state-backed automaker SAIC Motor, Toyota and Bosch, a sign of the normal auto monoliths’ conviction to good driving.

“The auto industry needs to develop more advantages when confronting Tesla’s marketing today, so they are paying more attention to autonomous driving,” Momenta’s founder and CEO Cao Xudong instructed TechCrunch.

Financial buyers main the round had been the Singaporean sovereign fund Temasek and Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital. Other members included Mercedes-Benz AG, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital, Tencent, Cathay Capital and some undisclosed establishments. It’s uncommon to see Tencent and Alibaba (or their associates) co-invest.

Be pragmatic

Despite the sizable monetary injection, Cao stated that “autonomous driving companies can no longer rely solely on fundraising to burn cash.”

Mega-fundraising has turn out to be frequent within the capital-intensive autonomous car world. Momenta’s Chinese rivals has amassed over $1 billion inside 5 years and four-year-old has raised over $500 million. Like Momenta, the 2 corporations have nabbed investments from large automakers. additionally counts Toyota as an investor, and WeJourney is backed by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi.

Momenta declined to reveal its newest valuation. For reference, hit $5.3 billion in its November fundraising round.

TechCrunch went on a check experience with Momenta / TechCrunch

Momenta prides itself on what it calls a “two-legged” enterprise mannequin. Unlike some friends that focus assets on “Level 4,” or actual driverless passenger vehicles, Momenta is promoting semi-automated driving software program to carmakers whereas investing in additional superior tech that’s years from mass adoption.

It additionally tries to cap bills by crowdsourcing information from auto companions as a substitute of constructing its personal automobile fleets, which helps save billions of {dollars}, the corporate has reiterated. By accumulating driving information at scale, Momenta will get to finetune its algorithms by a self-correcting system. The extra information it has, the higher its machine turns into at driving.

“It works like a flywheel,” Cao stated, utilizing a tech trade jargon first popularized by Jeff Bezos to elucidate Amazon’s progress.

Driver’s behavior

During a check experience TechCrunch went on, the place a security driver was current however didn’t intervene, a Momenta-powered Lincoln maneuvered by a neighborhood of Suzhou dotted by jaywalkers, unleashed canine, dashing scooters and reckless truck drivers. When the sedan slowed down at a freeway entrance ramp, different vehicles zipped previous us. It felt as if we had been going too slowly, however the truth is all of the human-steered vehicles had been going effectively above the 40km/h velocity restrict.

“Some drivers may want the autonomous driving car to be more aggressive, so we are also exploring a system that learns from individual style,” stated Jiang Yunfei, an R&D engineer at Momenta who went on the experience. “Of course, on the condition that the car is obeying traffic rules.”

A pill subsequent to the dashboard confirmed what our automobile was able to seeing and predicting on the street with a set of mass-produced sensors. “Prediction relies on data,” famous Sun. “If we build our own car fleets, it will be very costly to keep the data-driven approach.”

Momenta has joined the ranks of firms piloting robotaxis on China’s urban roads. It goals to take away some security drivers from its robotaxis, which it collectively operates with auto partners, in 2022, and expects all of its automobiles to go driverless in 2024. By then, the corporate can have considerably lowered labor prices and reached a optimistic working margin per car.

Automate globally

Momenta has stored a quiet public profile since its inception and barely talked about its clients apart from its partnership with Toyota on high-definition maps, which predated the funding. What Cao might say was the corporate has fostered “deep collaborations” with carmakers and Tier-1 suppliers throughout China, Germany and Japan.

By the tip of 2021, a number of clients will begin mass-producing mid-to-high-end vehicles geared up with Momenta’s software program. And by 2024 or 2025, Momenta’s options might be powering tens of millions of automobiles, which ought to present a gentle stream of driving information to the startup.

“Electrification is no longer enough to differentiate one high-end car brand from another because the motors and batteries they used are quite similar. The key differentiator now is intelligence,” stated the founder.

When requested whether or not Momenta worries about challenges confronted by Chinese corporations amid geopolitical tensions and persevering with U.S.-China technological decoupling, Jijay Shen, who just lately joined Momenta as vice chairman of gross sales and advertising, stated such conditions are “uncontrollable” and “regulatory compliance” is the precedence for coming into any new market.

“The human race was able to achieve significant technological progress in the last 10 years exactly because tech companies from different countries are building on top of each other,” stated Shen, who spent over a decade at Huawei and was previously CEO of the telecoms large’s Ireland enterprise.

“But because of geopolitical factors, many markets will begin to consider self-subsistence in the short term… I can’t conclude what is better, but I think the whole ecosystem and supply chain need to think what’s better — self-subsistence or interdependence.”

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