Driver self-driving startup Pony.ai puts on hold U.S. listing

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Driver self-driving startup Pony.ai puts on hold U.S. listing

- Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai has put on hold plans to go public in New York, through a merger with a blank-check firm at a valuation of $12 billion after it failed to gain assurances from Beijing that it would not become a target of a crackdown on Chinese tech companies, people familiar with the matter said.

The decision makes Pony.ai one of the largest companies to suspend its U.S. listing plans after China banned ride-sharing giant Didi Global Inc https: www.reuters.com - business didi-shares - slump - 25 - China-crackdown- 2021 - 07 - 06 from signing up new users just days after its initial public offering.

It followed with crackdowns on some other Chinese technology companies over concerns about the safety of user data that led to some companies including LinkDoc Technology and Hello Inc pulling their U.S. listing plans down.

The Toyota Motor Corp-backed startup will now seek to raise funds in a confidential fundraising round at a valuation of $12 billion, said the sources, who requested anonymity because the matter is private. It also hopes for the U.S. listing in the unlikely event that it receives a green light from the Chinese government imminently, sources added.

Operating in both Chinese and the United States, Pony.ai maintains a significant presence in Chinese cities including Beijing and Guangzhou, where it launched commuter pilots and signed partnership with Chinese state-owned auto groups.

It was concerned that the Chinese regulators could take action if it led with an U.S. stock market debut, sources said. Details of Pony.ai's conversations with the Chinese authorities could not be learned.

VectoIQ acquisition II had been in special talks to go public through a merger with exclusive owner Pony.ai. The deal would have been financed with a private placement from investors of about $1.2 billion and the company had aimed to list by October, according to sources.

A spokesperson for Pony.ai said the company can't confirm its plans to go public or give a timeline. The Cyberspace Administration of China, which has been leading the crackdown on tech companies like Didi, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. VectoIQ declined to comment.

Had Pony.ai gone ahead with the listing, it would also have faced U.S scrutiny. The U.S. Securities and Exchange CommissionU.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said last month that it would not allow Chinese companies to raise money in the United States unless they fully disclose their legal structures and explain the risk of Beijing interfering in their businesses.

The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which reviews deals with foreign companies for potential security risks, has also criticized SPAC deals.

Pony.ai CEO James Peng told Reuters in June that the company was considering going public in the United States to help fund its goal of commercializing driverless car riding services. He provides no details of how this would happen.

In May, a second truck manufacturer with operations and partnerships in China clinched a deal to go public before China's tech crackdown on Hennessy Capital Investment Corp V through a $3.3 billion merger with Plus. The deal is expected to end by the third quarter.

Pony.ai, which develops and tests autonomous driving vehicles in China and the United States, said in November that its valuation reached $5.3 billion after raising more than $1 billion in funding.

In June, the company hired Lawrence Steyn, vice chairman of investment banking at JPMorgan Chase Co, as its chief financial officer to prepare for a public listing.

VictoIQ II is the second SPAC to be headed by former General Motors Vice Chairman Nikola Corp., whose first SPAC struck a deal with electric truck maker Steve Girsky. In January, it raised $300 million in an initial public offering in January.