In the race to develop autonomous cars, Silicon Valley companies like Alphabet’s Waymo are far ahead. But a wave of Chinese startups are raising of hundreds of millions of dollars to try to catch up. And these companies, including Pony.ai, Roadstar.ai, WeRide.ai and Momenta, have an edge: Their U.S. competitors may be shut out of the Chinese market.
Investors at least seem to think they have a decent chance of success. WeRide is valued at $500 million, but the other three are being valued at more than $1 billion—well before they’re ready to start selling the products under development. Those valuations put them in the ranks of global tech unicorns. The mega rounds they’re raising also are a stark contrast to what’s happening more broadly in China, where investors are growing cautious amid signs of an economic slowdown and disappointing performance of Chinese listed tech companies.