HONG KONG -- Chinese autonomous vehicle startup WeRide has raised $310 million from bus maker Zhengzhou Yutong Group and several state-backed investors as Beijing rolls out new guidelines for testing self-driving cars.
WeRide, backed by the alliance of Groupe Renault, Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors, is among the front-runners in China's rapidly growing autonomous vehicle sector. The fresh investment announced Thursday will allow the 3-year-old startup to accelerate research and commercialization of autonomous technologies.
WeRide also said that it will begin testing autonomous buses this week on an island in Guangzhou, its headquarters city, as part of its strategic partnership with Yutong, which contributed $200 million of the new funding and is one of China's largest bus manufacturers.
Several state-backed investment funds also joined the financing as new investors, including China Development Bank's Equipment Manufacturing Fund; Hengjian Emerging Industries Fund, controlled by the provincial government of Guangdong; and Zhuhai Huajin Capital, controlled by the Zhuhai city government. Private equity companies CMC Capital Partners and Tryin Capital also are among WeRide's new investors.
"We will strengthen the stability and safety of self-driving systems, operate our services while adhering to regulations, and strive to bring more self-driving products to the market," said Tony Han, WeRide founder and CEO.
While the U.S. leads in self-driving technology, Chinese companies are catching up, as evidenced by road tests in China and the U.S.
Current Chinese front-runners, including Pony.ai, Baidu and AutoX, have launched robotaxi services. Several have secured partnerships with established auto companies to continue research. WeRide last year became the world's second company after Alphabet's Waymo to test fully self-driving vehicles on public roads. It also has a robotaxi fleet.
China is relaxing traffic rules to facilitate the testing. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology unveiled a set of guidelines to encourage local governments to support more autonomous vehicle road tests, including on highways.
"The adoption of connected cars is an inevitable trend of development of the automobile industry and is also an important strategic direction for other countries," the ministry said, adding that the sector had entered the "fast lane" of development in China.
Government support for autonomous vehicles, along with the recent rally of electric carmakers stocks, have boosted investor confidence.
"National guidelines have been announced to facilitate the development of this sector," said Li Ruigang, founding partner of CMC Capital Partners, in WeRide's news release. "We are looking forward to helping industry leaders such as WeRide to exploit market opportunities and develop various scenarios for the application of its technologies."