Pony.ai’s permit to test driverless vehicles in California is suspended after crash

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Pony.ai, an autonomous vehicle startup based in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China, is temporarily unable to test driverless vehicles in California after a vehicle crash led the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend the company’s testing permit.

Pony.ai was one of the few companies approved to test fully autonomous vehicles without safety drivers behind the steering wheel on public roads in California. The DMV has only issued permits to seven other companies, including major operators like Waymo and Cruise.

But the permit was suspended — and Pony’s name removed from the DMV’s list of permit holders — after a reported vehicle collision in Fremont, California on October 28th, the agency said in a statement. Pony has 10 Hyundai Kona vehicles registered under its driverless testing permit. The company is still authorized to test vehicles with a safety driver behind the steering wheel.

The permit was suspended after the company reported a crash to the DMV. (All AV permit holders are required to file reports after a collision.) According to the report, Pony’s vehicle was in autonomous mode, turning right onto Fremont Boulevard from Cushing Parkway when it “came into contact” with a center divider containing a traffic sign.

“The Pony.ai AV suffered moderate damage to the front of the vehicle and the undercarriage,” the report states. “There were no injuries and no other vehicles involved.”

Fremont Police were called to the scene. Pony said that it later reached out to local authorities to “resolve all issues” related to the damaged street sign.

“The safety of the motoring public remains the California DMV’s top priority, and the department’s autonomous vehicle regulations provide a framework to facilitate the safe testing and deployment of this technology on California public roads,” the DMV said in a statement. “When there is an unreasonable risk to public safety, the DMV can immediately suspend or revoke permits.”

This represents a hurdle to Pony’s commercial plans in the state. Shortly after receiving its driverless testing permit in May, Pony.ai founder and CEO James Peng told The Verge that the company was seeking approval to include those vehicles in its robotaxi service in California. “We are actually at the final stage of getting the approval for travelers,” he said.

Pony.ai was valued at $3 billion after a $400 million investment from Toyota last year. The company has been testing autonomous vehicles in Beijing and Guangzhou since late 2018 as well as in Fremont and Irvine, California.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Pony noted that the company’s autonomous vehicles have driven over 750,000 miles in California since 2017. Pony is also conducting its own investigation into the October collision.

“We are proud to have one of the industry’s best safety records,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to a safe resolution to this incident.”

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