Chinese autonomous-driving company Pony.ai struck a partnership with Toyota Motor Corp., a boon for the startup seeking to take on U.S. rivals such as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo.

Pony.ai and Toyota are teaming up on a pilot project as they attempt to accelerate the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, according to a statement from Pony.ai on Monday. The companies will start the pilot in September on public roads in Beijing and Shanghai, using Lexus RX vehicles and Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system, said Toyota spokesman Maki Niimi.

A self-driving car from Pony.ai in Guangzhou in February 2018. (Picture: Sarah Dai/SCMP)

The startup is among the front-runners in autonomous driving in China, which is getting a late start in the burgeoning field compared with the U.S. Founded in 2016, Pony.ai had raised about $300 million as of April, with a valuation of $1.7 billion. It received robotaxi operation permits for California in June.

Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker by market capitalization, is accelerating its push in China through investments in emerging areas such as electrified vehicles and transport services. In July, the company agreed to invest $600 million in Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing, and has also said it would sign onto the Apollo self-driving platform led by Baidu Inc.

Toyota aims to become “a mobility company firmly rooted in China” and will accelerate its business in China via collaboration with many local companies, the carmaker said in an emailed statement.