Chinese food delivery giant Meituan has invested in autonomous driving startup QCraft’s latest fundraising round of $100 million, highlighting the intensifying bets made by the country’s Big Tech on the promising driverless car space.
QCraft announced on Monday that it has raised $100 million in its Series A+ round of financing led by YF Capital and Genesis Capital, with Meituan’s Long-Z Capital and existing investor IDG Capital joining in as well. Domestic media outlet LatePost reported that the round has put QCraft on track towards the “unicorn” club, which refers to startups with a valuation of at least $1 billion.
Qian Yu, CEO and co-founder of QCraft, said at a press conference held on Monday that the company will use the proceeds from the funding round to develop more intelligent urban mobility scenarios, including launching a carpooling service called the Longzhou Space.
Founded by executives who used to work at autonomous-driving pioneers including Tesla, Waybo and Uber, Silicon Valley-based QCraft acquired a California public road test permit in July 2019, only four months after its inception. In December 2019, the company shifted its pivot from the U.S. to China, opening offices in Beijing, Suzhou and Shenzhen.
QCraft is currently testing the Longzhou One – its self-developed autonomous minibus – on open roads in Suzhou, Shenzhen and Wuhan. The minibus is equipped with GPS, four cameras, two laser sensors and five radar sensors to navigate a network of predetermined routes. A combination of artificial intelligence technology and cameras enables it to detect and avoid obstacles on the road, including vehicles, pedestrians and animals.
According to the company, the Longzhou One achieves “Level 4” automation, meaning routes are chosen by humans but there is no one behind the wheel and the vehicle can avoid obstacles on its own. Tesla’s Autopilot system is considered Level 2, which means the car can do the steering and acceleration, but the driver must still be ready to take the wheel. QCraft plans to have at least 100 autonomous buses on open roads in China by the end of this year.
In March, Bloomberg cited unnamed sources in reporting that social media titan ByteDance had participated in a fundraising round of QCraft in which the startup raised at least $25 million.
Chinese Internet giants including Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba have also thrown themselves into the escalating battle over the future of driving, as the trend towards increasingly autonomous and connected cars is gaining momentum.
Baidu’s self-driving arm Apollo launched its paid robotaxi services, which operate without a driver behind the steering wheel, in Beijing and Guangzhou earlier this year. Tencent announced in January that it has teamed up with Zhejiang-based automaker Geely to work together on areas “in the fields of digitalization, intelligent cockpits, autonomous driving, and low carbon development.” Alibaba said in June that it will develop driverless trucks with its logistics unit Cainiao.
The Chinese government has included autonomous vehicles as one of the key sectors in its ‘Made in China 2025’ plan, which aims to transform the country into a leading manufacturer of high-end, innovative products. The government hopes to see 30% of cars sold in China to have some level of automation by 2025.
In a policy initiative released in December 2020, the Ministry of Transport also pointed out that public transport in China should grow increasingly autonomous and smart, emphasizing the need to encourage technology developers to set up more demonstration sites across the country.