Juma Group completed it's seventh round of funding in three years on Monday, ramping up efforts to lead a revolution in Chinese trucking with the aid of high-profile shareholders Global Logistic Properties (GLP) and SinoOcean Capital.
The Chinese lorry logistics company raised a further Rmb1.5 billion ($216 million) through the Series C round of fundraising as it looks to develop alternative energy truck services
, hook up to autonomous driving technology, and expand its logistics network nationally.
GLP took part, having previously joined a $64.8 million B round investment in May 2017, as did SinoOcean, the investment arm of property developer Sino-Ocean Group which invested an undisclosed amount in a follow-on B round in January this year.
Juma provides delivery services between cities for corporate clients including SF Express, Alibaba’s Tmall, and JD.com, with 137 branches in 61 Chinese cities. Juma also provides a truck rental business in China for retail clients.
And it is seeking to apply autonomous driving technology
to help its drivers on the road. In August, the startup announced a partnership with GLP, JD Logistics and WM Motor to develop a computerised truck embedded with maps and artificial intelligence. The truck will be a new energy vehicle too.
Compared with passenger vehicles, freight road transportation seems to be a more logical place to begin applying autonomous driving. Designated routes and timetabled requirements make them ideal for auto-pilot features, which can also reduce the danger of fatigue driving.
In that respect, companies like Tesla are ahead of their competitors. In 2017 it launched its electronic truck Semi, which is equipped with autopilot technology and provides a range of 800 kilometres on just one charge. Semi is set to go on sale next year.
Swedish auto maker Volvo has also released an electronic truck, which doesn't even have a driver seat but is an electronic trailer that automatically delivers goods on designated routes.
Juma is also planning to help the build-out of China's logistics network with a series of truck rental centres.
In a speech
last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the government wanted to encourage more private and foreign companies to invest in the construction and operation of logistics hubs. Beijing also wants to build logistics terminals that promote multimodal transport -- combining lorry, train and ship.
Truck delivery still serves most areas, especially in eastern and southern China. But it also suffers from traffic congestion, with the average motorway driving speed in China only 60 km/h compared with 80 km/h in the US and Europe, according to research
published last year by Bain Consulting.
Improper driving has increased since 2015 and that has led to higher fuel consumption and more accidents on the road, Bain said.
In theory, these problems could be solved with the help of more autonomous driving. It could also help secure the greener future Beijing craves.
The tightening of environmental regulations provides another reason why traditional truck delivery is becoming less favoured and why the sector is being pushed towards cleaner forms of energy and automated efficiency gains.
In July, the Chinese government released
a three-year plan to reduce 440 million tons of truck transportation in coastal areas to help eliminate some of the pollution choking China's cities.
But it's a huge undertaking: at $720 billion last year, according to Bain, the market for highway freight in China is the biggest in the world.
Companies like Juma, nonetheless, hope to be at the vanguard of a high-tech revolution that promises to revolutionise the market in the years to come, and so profit accordingly.
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