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Amazon Snaps Up Option to Buy Stake in AI Truck-Driving Startup

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(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. has placed an order for 1,000 autonomous driving systems from self-driving truck technology startup Plus and has acquired the option to buy a stake of as much as 20%, Plus said in a regulatory filing, confirming an earlier Bloomberg report.

Amazon has the right to buy preferred shares of Plus via a warrant at a price of $0.46647 per share, the filing shows. That amounts to a roughly 20% stake based on Plus’s shares outstanding before its planned merger with special purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V.

The Sequoia Capital China-backed company, which is developing autonomous driving technology for long-haul trucking, is set to have a valuation of $3.3 billion, adding $500 million in proceeds to accelerate its expansion, the company said in a statement in May. The company raised $150 million via so-called private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from funds including BlackRock Inc. and D.E. Shaw.

Plus declined to comment via an emailed statement. A representative for Amazon said the company couldn’t immediately comment.

Cupertino, California-based Plus is among a handful of startups trying to up-end a fragmented long-haul trucking business with driverless technology. It has been working with Chinese delivery company SF Holding Co., which uses Plus-enabled trucks that can cover 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) a day, Plus said in April. State-owned China FAW Group Co. plans to start mass production of jointly-developed autonomous trucks this quarter, Plus has said.

The Hennessy SPAC raised $345 million in a January initial public offering. Chief Executive Officer Daniel J. Hennessy previously led blank-check firms that completed deals to form companies including electric-vehicle developer Canoo Inc., Blue Bird Corp., which makes school buses, and Texas-based transportation and logistics firm Daseke Inc.

Founded by a group of Stanford University classmates in 2016, Plus is backed by investors including Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., GSR Ventures Management and a Chinese long-haul company known in English as Full Truck Alliance. It also has a partnership with European truckmaker Iveco SpA and is working with Cummins Inc. on using autonomous technology in trucks powered by natural gas.

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Plus raised $200 million in a funding round in February that attracted new investors such as Guotai Junan International Holdings and Citic Private Equity Funds Management Co. It raised an additional $220 million from investors co-led by FountainVest Partners and ClearVue Partners in March.

It began delivering its automated driving system PlusDrive to some customers in the U.S. and China this year.

The company recently hired Dennis Mooney from Navistar International Corp. and Chuck Joseph from Amazon.com Inc. to help scale up production and promote the adoption of Plus technology.

(Updates first paragraph with details of company filing.)

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