We may still be a long way off from Level 5, fully self-driving cars on the open road, but companies building autonomous vehicles and shuttles for specific uses within closed-campus deployments say they are on their way to commercial operations and are raising money to get there. In the latest development, a startup out of Toulouse, France, called EasyMile -- which builds shuttles for transporting both people and goods -- has closed a Series B of €55 million ($66 million).
The funding is being led by Searchlight Capital Partners -- the investor that just earlier this week appointed former FCC chairman Ajit Pai as its newest partner -- with McWin and NextStage AM also participating. Previous investors rail industry heavyweight Alstom, Bpifrance and auto giant Continental also participated. Searchlight is also an investor in Get Your Guide and Univision.
EasyMile claims to be the world leader in autonomous shuttles with 60% of the global market using its vehicles. It says that its vehicles have racked up 800,000 kilometers in over 300 locations in 30 countries. But as a mark of how small and nascent that market is today, EasyMile also says that it has just 180 vehicles deployed worldwide. (One big competitor, Navya, also happens to be based out of France, interestingly.)
EasyMile said it will use the funds to scale its business, by securing and building out commercial deployments in closed-campus environments. It will also continue to invest in its longer term strategy, to deploy its vehicles and technology in public transportation networks, although the company said believes its focus on more immediate use cases is what has helped it grow and attract new investment.
"We have stayed focused on what we can deliver in a reasonable timeframe and partnered with leaders in niche markets that are addressable now," said EasyMile Founder and CEO Gilbert Gagnaire in a statement. “The participation of all of EasyMile’s earlier investors in the round is a strong vote of confidence in our expansion plan, and we are very happy to welcome Searchlight, McWin and NextStage and look forward to accelerating our growth thanks to their expertise."
EasyMile is not disclosing its valuation, nor how much it has raised to date in what it described as an oversubscribed round. We are asking the company and will update this post as we learn more.
EasyMile's vehicles include the EZ10 people shuttles and TractEasy, an autonomous "tractor" trailer system for moving goods, and its over the years inked deals with companies like TLD (which runs ground transport and support in air cargo) and is currently working with the Peugeot, Chrysler and Fiat group Stellantis to build an autonomous vehicle using EasyMile technology.
The company has also had some setbacks. Last year, the NHTSA barred EasyMile from running any services with passengers on board after the company had an accident. That restriction has since been lifted, the company tells me.
On that front, it will be interesting to see how and if its new investor will have an impact in terms of helping with regulatory issues in the future.
"We are excited to be investing in EasyMile at this critical juncture in the firm’s trajectory," said Ralf Ackermann, a partner at Searchlight Capital, in a statement. "Having observed its robust, quality-driven approach and industry-leading technology, we are confident that it is well positioned to scale commercially and are delighted to be part of the journey."
The fundraising is interesting in that it is coming at a time when we're seeing some reshuffling and in some cases retrenchment in the autonomous driving space. Just this week Lyft sold off its Level 5 division to Toyota's Woven Planet for $550 million. EasyMile believes that its continuing focus on specific markets around shuttles in closed-loops has helped it stay the course and build more traction and profile in what is still an early market and bound to go through more changes, and hiccups.
“This injection of capital validates EasyMile’s strategy and will allow us to finalize our technical development and finance our scaleup strategy. We’ll bring the technology up to a level that can be industrialized and deliver a real commercial service," said GM Benoit Perrin, in a statement.
Updated with status of NHTSA investigation.