Alphabet's Waymo raises $3.4b in first fresh funding in a year

A Waymo autonomous vehicle on display at the 2019 CES in Las Vegas. With self-driving start-ups racing to build war chests to develop and commercialise technology, Alphabet unit Waymo said the capital raised in its first fresh funding round in a year
A Waymo autonomous vehicle on display at the 2019 CES in Las Vegas. With self-driving start-ups racing to build war chests to develop and commercialise technology, Alphabet unit Waymo said the capital raised in its first fresh funding round in a year would be used for advancing Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving technology, and to grow its team.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERKELEY • Alphabet's self-driving unit Waymo said on Wednesday that it raised US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) in its first fresh funding round in a year, when a string of defections of executives rekindled concerns about the technology struggling to scale up.

The announcement came a day after General Motors' majority-owned Cruise self-driving car subsidiary said it would gain access to a US$5 billion credit line.

Self-driving start-ups are racing to build war chests to develop and commercialise technology, an expensive and time-consuming process.

The funding led by Alphabet, Google's parent company, and other existing shareholders is the second outside funding for Waymo, which last year raised US$3.25 billion in its first external investment round since its inception in 2009.

Waymo has been widely viewed as the leader of the self-driving race, but attaining the holy grail of full and safe automation remains challenging as it faces growing competition from rivals backed by legacy automakers.

"There's no greater challenge in artificial intelligence than building and deploying fully autonomous technology at scale," Mr Dmitri Dolgov and Ms Tekedra Mawakana, Waymo's co-chief executives, said in a statement.

The duo became co-CEOs after Mr John Krafcik stepped down in April, followed by departures of the chief financial officer and other senior officials.

Waymo, which offers driverless ride-hailing service in limited areas in Phoenix, has this year applied for a permit for commercial deployment in San Francisco.

It has also expanded into the trucking segment, testing goods transport services using autonomous trucks.

"Self-driving start-ups are unlikely to be anywhere near profitable for many years to come. They need to raise the capital, in order to fund that expansion into the operational side," said Mr Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst at Guidehouse Insights.

Initial public offerings (IPOs) for self-driving start-ups would be an opportunity for investors to recoup their losses, he added.

Self-driving start-up Argo AI, backed by Ford Motor and Volkswagen, plans to have another funding round before pursuing a public listing next year.

Waymo said the capital would be used for advancing Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving technology, and to grow its team, the company said.

According to investor website PitchBook, Waymo is valued at just over US$30 billion. Alphabet did not immediately comment on the unit's latest valuation.

Participants in this latest round include AutoNation, Magna International, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Fidelity Management & Research Company, as well as new investor Tiger Global.

"The latest Waymo funding round clearly demonstrates that there is a healthy investor appetite for self-driving technologies," said Mr Grayson Brulte, president at consultancy Brulte & Co.

"I do think investors are getting more confident after the successful TuSimple IPO."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2021, with the headline 'Alphabet's Waymo raises $3.4b in first fresh funding in a year'. Subscribe