Pony.ai, a joint American-Chinese self-driving car venture, had its testing permit pulled by the Califoria Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday following details emerging from a crash involving one of their cars in late October.
Pony.ai is currently one of several self-driving car companies testing their vehicles in California. They have been testing in Fremont and Irvine since 2017, with the most recent fleet consisting of 10 Hyundai Kona vehicles.
Last year, following a $400 million investment from Toyota, Pony.ai was valued at $3 billion. With a surging value, Pony.ai shifted more towards providing robotaxi services, receiving their driverless testing permit from the DMV in May in the buildup for full approval.
However, according to DMV reports, on October 28th, one of their Hyundai Konas driving autonomously in Fremont turned and crashed into a center divider. According to the report, “The Pony.ai AV suffered moderate damage to the front of the vehicle and the undercarriage. There were no injuries and no other vehicles involved.”
While the accident did not involve any other vehicles, Pony.ai, one of eight companies currently competing to reach the self-driving robotaxi market in California first, suffered a major setback by being pulled from completely driverless driving. While the company can still have tests with people behind the steering wheel in case anything like that happens again, it now puts the company behind other companies who are now on their final stages of self-driving testing with the DMV, such as Alphabet’s Waymo and GM’s Cruise.
Pony.ai defended itself on Tuesday, noting that they have had an impeccable safety record until the October crash, saying in a statement that they would be conducting their own investigation.
“We are proud to have one of the industry’s best safety records,” Pony.ai said on Tuesday. “We look forward to a safe resolution to this incident.”
For autonomous car companies in general, Pony.ai’s setback is only the latest for them in California. In September, the state limited what vehicles the companies could possibly use in the future, passing a law stating that all self-driving vehicles must be zero-emission ones by 2030. Many cities hoping to have an increased ridership on public transportation, such as San Francisco, have also raised numerous objections over the self-driving services, such as vehicles releasing passengers in dangerous places. Recent studies have also showed that a vast majority of passengers simply do not want to ride in or trust self-driving vehicles.
“It’s a race for the top right now for these self-driving companies, but they are failing to see that there may not be much of a market for them,” Byron Taylor, a pollster who focuses on transportation issues, told the Globe on Tuesday. “Most want someone who drives it, not a robot. Cities would rather have people use mass transportation and people, when given a choice, usually want to drive themselves if possible. The polls show it too. So that’s why it’s so cut throat right now and that’s why Pony.ai’s setback is so huge. The market, at least initially, is not that big to start with, for paying riders. The first ones in will establish themselves, and any others following them will face a hard time getting some of that market.”
The first companies to have approved driverless robotaxi permits by the DMV are expected in the near future.
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