Banma Technologies, a joint venture between Alibaba and SAIC Motor that focuses on developing smart operating systems for internet-connected cars, has raised Rmb1.6 billion ($233 million) to research and develop intelligent vehicle technologies.
The company's first-ever public fundraising was led by SDIC Fund Management, the private equity arm of State Development & Investment Corporation, and featured Yunfeng Capital and Shangqi Capital, Banma said on Thursday. And further fundraisings are planned.
The three year-old start-up did not divulge its post-money valuation but confirmed it has achieved so-called unicorn status – meaning it is a private company now valued at more than $1 billion.
Banma’s capital raise illustrates how this year could be the busiest yet for private Chinese car-related companies seeking institutional investment.
Already in 2018 the automotive sector has seen private fundraisings from the likes of Pony.ai, Renrenche, XPeng and Souche, while electric car maker Nio and second-hand car trading app Uxin have successfully made their way onto the public market through initial public offerings.
For Banma, the fundraiser is of significant importance because it is now able to support its own operations with the new funds and becomes financially independent from Alibaba and SAIC Motor, which invested Rmb1 billion each to set the company up in July 2015.
Banma focuses on developing intelligent in-car systems based on Alios, an Alibaba-developed operating system for mobile, industrial and internet of things (IoT) devices. This differentiates the company from nearly all other intelligent car system developers running on Android systems.
Banma’s in-car system features functions such as real-time navigation, voice interaction, car pre-heating and pre-cooling, smart parking and automatic toll payment, among others. It is the default operating system for SAIC’s electric sport utility vehicle Roewe RX5, which was launched two years ago.
The company has more ambitious goals to develop software systems to support what is commonly known as on-board diagnostics (OBD) – a vehicle's self-