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Toyota invests in Chinese self-driving partner Momenta

Startup's $500m funding round helps Japanese carmaker build China tech base

Momenta's self-driving systems analyze data from cameras and sensors using deep learning to construct a map of a car's surroundings.

TIANJIN, China -- Toyota Motor has invested in Chinese autonomous-driving startup Momenta as part of a $500 million fundraising round, expanding the Japanese automaker's development infrastructure in China as tensions between Beijing and the U.S. simmer.

Momenta's systems use deep learning to analyze information from a vehicle's cameras and sensors and construct a map of its surroundings to a precision of 10 cm. The company's backers include Daimler and Tencent Holdings, and the startup has partnered with American chipmaker Nvidia.

German auto parts maker Bosch, SAIC Motor -- China's largest automaker -- and Singaporean state-backed investor Temasek Holdings also contributed to the latest funding round. Momenta will use the money to accelerate commercial applications of the technology, such as driverless taxis.

Toyota hopes to use Momenta's cutting-edge technology to further its development plans here.

As the U.S. and China clash over technology, Toyota is establishing separate development frameworks for self-driving in each country. The Japanese automaker decided in February 2020 to invest $400 million in Pony.ai, a major Chinese startup in the field, and inked a strategic tie-up with Momenta the following month.

As China seeks to go beyond being just the world's largest new-auto market and become an industry heavyweight in its own right, leading companies here are propelling self-driving technology forward. A ranking of autonomous road-test mileage for 2020 released by Beijing authorities put search giant Baidu on top, followed by Pony.ai and Toyota.

The Chinese government aims to have half of all new vehicles sold in 2025 come equipped with "level 2" self-driving systems, which assist drivers with steering and acceleration, or "level 3," which allows hands-free operation under certain conditions. The target rises to 70% in 2030.

Big Chinese tech companies are eyeing forays into the industry. Didi Chuxing has teamed with electric vehicle maker BYD to develop custom-built autos for Didi's market-leading ride-hailing service, while Baidu is proceeding on a partnership with automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

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