Chinese self-driving startup reaches unicorn status

TuSimple said proceeds from the $95 million fundraising round will go towards research and development as the company pushes into the rapidly expanding US market .

TuSimple, a US-Chinese self-driving truck developer, has raised $95 million in a funding round led by tech giant Sina Corp, taking the startup's valuation above the $1 billion mark.

The fundraising round is TuSimple’s third. It raised $23 million in a Series B round led by Sina, Nvidia and ZP Capital, and $55 million in Series C funding. The cash will support the company’s ambitions to expand its fleet of trucks to 50 by June. It currently has 11.

TuSimple has also said that it intends to open a new transportation route from Arizona to Texas this quarter. The company is currently serving 13 clients with an average of four transportations a day, it said.

China’s trucking industry, while still growing and expected to have generated revenue of $112.7 billion in 2018, is much smaller than its US counterpart. In the US, trucking market revenue already surpassed $700 billion in 2017.

Roads in China are in many cases too dangerous to be able to accommodate driverless cars. The country is also expanding its railroad and highspeed train networks aggressively, which has reduced appetite for startups like TuSimple to develop long-distance driverless trucks.

Chinese self-driving startups have also been lured across the Pacific because it is easier to get autonomous driving testing license in California. Some 13 Chinese startups have already secured licenses to test their autonomous driving system in the state.

TuSimple got its testing license in 2017 and is now developing its level four driverless truck in the US. The company intends to channel some of the proceeds from its latest investment into research.

The American Trucking Associations said truck tonnage grew 6.6% annually in 2018 which represented the largest annual gain in 20 years. Around 70% of US domestic freight transportation is managed by trucks making it a strong barometer of economic health.


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