Pony.ai Loses California AV Testing Permit

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Pony.AI, a company developing autonomous vehicles, recently had its permit for testing in California revoked, reportedly because the state wasn’t happy with test driver record keeping.

“While reviewing Pony.ai’s application to renew the testing permit, the DMV found numerous violations on the driving records of active Pony.ai safety drivers,” a spokesperson for the California DMV told TechCrunch. Apparently, the issue was that the company wasn’t performing regular checks on driving records to exclude drivers who got cited after their initial hiring with the company. Before revocation, they had 41 autonomous testing vehicles and 71 drivers associated with the permit.

“Because of the critical role of safety drivers to facilitate the safe testing of autonomous technology and the need for these drivers to have a clean driving record as established by the DMV’s autonomous vehicle regulations, the DMV is revoking the permit, effective immediately.” a Pony.ai representative told TechCrunch, noting that the state government agency took issue with the recent driving records of three of the company’s test drivers.

This isn’t going to stop the company from pursuing autonomous vehicles in the future, though. They told TechCrunch that they’re very proud of their record, with “6.8 million real-world autonomous miles” injury-free. Most of the company’s operations are in China, and on that side of the Pacific, the company recently scored two important permits, one for driverless ride-hailing in Beijing, and one for a taxi license in Guanghzhou. So, they’re going to keep developing, even if they can’t do this in California right now.

This isn’t the company’s first run-in with California regulators. After an accident in Fremont, California, where investigators thought a faulty vehicle was the cause, they lost their other permit to operate without test drivers. Three faulty vehicles were recalled by the company at that time, but that didn’t get them their permit back nor did it stop them from getting their driver-in-vehicle permit revoked, too.

At this point, no media outlet has gotten more answers out of the DMV about how this will be handled going forward. Theoretically, the company should be able to come back into compliance for driver-in-vehicle testing by removing the three offending drivers from the testing program, checking driving records as required, providing proof of both, and asking the state to give them their permit back. But, we don’t know what else California regulators know, nor do we know how the other driverless permit’s revocation affects any reinstatement.

What seems pretty certain at this point, regardless of what happens in California, is that this won’t kill the company and make it go the way of Uber’s AV efforts. Its operations in China, in two very large cities, means testing and development will continue. At some point, they will have to get testing on US roads again, though. The big question now is whether that can happen in California or whether they’ll have to go to another US state to get approved.

Featured image: Pony.ai next-generation autonomous driving system, equipped on Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS (S-AM) platform, image by Pony.ai.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1987 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba