U.S. autonomous truck startup TuSimple raises $95 million from Sina, others

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - U.S. self-driving truck startup TuSimple said it has raised $95 million in a funding round led by Chinese internet giant Sina Corp, which values the three-year-old firm at $1 billion.

The fresh funds, investors of which also include Hong Kong-based investment firm Composite Capital, will be used to expand its commercial fleet to 50 trucks by June from 11 currently, it said.

The latest funding round was completed in December and brings TuSimple’s total funding to date to $178 million, it added. Other investors in previous rounds include U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp.

“After three years of intense focus to reach our technical goals, we have moved beyond research into the serious work of building a commercial solution,” said Xiaodi Hou, TuSimple founder and chief technology officer.

The California-based company currently makes daily deliveries in the U.S. state of Arizona on highways and local streets for 12 customers and plans to expand its operations to Texas. Its level-4 vehicles are able to drive completely autonomously in most, but not all conditions.

Silicon Valley firms to traditional carmakers have been racing to put fully commercial self-driving vehicles on the road and transportation experts say that the trucking industry could be among the earliest users because of the relative predictability of highways compared with busy city streets.

German luxury carmaker Daimler last month said it will invest 500 million euros ($573 million) in the coming years to develop highly autonomous trucks.

Ride-hailing giant Uber also bought self-driving truck business Otto in 2016 but announced last year that it would shutter the unit to focus on developing autonomous cars.

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Stephen Coates