Zoox concept car Zoox

Autonomous-Car Startup Zoox Seeks $252 Million in Funding

Zoox is the only startup with a license to operate autonomous vehicles on the road in California.

Zoox Inc., a secretive autonomous-driving startup in Silicon Valley, is seeking to raise as much as $252 million in funding, according to a securities filing. If the fundraising is successful, the investment could give Zoox a valuation of more than $1 billion, according to an analysis by venture-capital research firm VC Experts.

While Zoox has said very little about what it's working on, it's the only startup with a license to operate autonomous vehicles on the road in California. The other startup that had a similar license was Cruise Automation, which General Motors Co. acquired in March.

California has also granted permits to Google parent Alphabet Inc., Ford Motor Co., Tesla Motors Inc. and about a half-dozen other companies. Uber Technologies Inc. has started testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, where it collaborates with the robotics group at Carnegie Mellon University.

Technology companies and automakers are racing to build cars capable of driving without human intervention. Interest in such vehicles has helped spur demand for artificial-intelligence and automotive professionals. Driverless-car development is a costly endeavor, which could deter some venture capitalists.

Zoox declined to comment. The Wall Street Journal earlier reported details of Zoox's fundraising. The newspaper said Hong Kong-based AID Partners Capital Holdings Ltd. invested $20 million into the round and that Zoox has 140 employees, including former Alphabet, Apple and Tesla workers.

Before it went quiet, Zoox showed off sporty renderings of a concept car, one with a low roof and no windshields, designed to drive in both directions. Inside, passengers sit facing each other, like in a train compartment. Zoox is looking to create driverless cars for a ride-hailing service similar to Uber, according to a report last year in the trade publication IEEE Spectrum.

Zoox's founders include an Australian designer and a Stanford University grad who worked on self-driving cars alongside Sebastian Thrun, co-creator of Alphabet's autonomous-vehicle project. In recent months, Zoox has brought on board members including Laurie Yoler, the former president of Qualcomm Labs, and Dan Cooperman, the former general counsel for Apple Inc. and Oracle Corp.

By Ellen Huet

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