The US-China decoupling should discourage cross-border investment between the two superpowers, as investors avoid sanctions and geopolitical risks. But in some regions, Chinese investors and American tech companies continue to find happy marriages.
ClearMotion, a Boston-based company that aims to make car journeys less bumpy and more fun, just raised $39 million led by Nio Capital, a mobility-focused venture capital fund created by founder William Li. of the Chinese start-up of electric vehicles Nio.
Being backed by Nio Capital is a critical step in ClearMotion’s expansion into China, the automotive suspension technology company’s CEO Christian Steinmann told TechCrunch.
“It was like seeking and finding together,” the executive said when asked how he came across the fund. “Nio Capital itself is very strong in supporting [global] businesses to set up in China.
“For next-era intelligent vehicles, ClearMotion will accelerate the transformation of the automobile from a tool of transportation to a mobile living space,” said Ian Zhu, managing partner at NIO Capital, in a statement.
ClearMotion has made a name for itself using software-controlled actuators to replace traditional car shock absorbers. Working with the vehicle’s sensors, its software system can predict road surface conditions, which in turn informs its flagship, an electro-hydraulic unit, to counter disturbances on the road.
After working on external motion cancellation for over a decade, ClearMotion now introduces in-vehicle 4D motion that coordinates with the vehicle’s infotainment system. The solution, the CEO said, creates an “immersive in-car entertainment experience by integrating with movies, games and the metaverse” – imagine being able to enjoy a 4D movie with coordinated car movement and immersive sound from high quality, while your vehicle is charging.
“Charging can suddenly become a cool experience,” Steinmann remarked.
China, the world’s largest auto market, is “much more accelerated” in people’s demand for in-cabin experiences, the CEO suggested. “But the wow factor is not currently provided by the industry.”
Nio Capital’s funding is intended to help ClearMotion “industrialize” its products in China. The American company is setting up a factory to assemble its actuators around Shanghai, a major automobile manufacturing center in China. The plan is to begin mass production in China by the end of 2024, a schedule considered “very aggressive” in the auto industry, the CEO admitted. The company has started hiring in China for engineering, software development, hardware, and customer relations roles.
Other investors in ClearMotion’s latest funding round include BAI Capital, Franklin Templeton, NewView Capital and Acadia Woods Partners. To date, the company has raised over $300 million from investors including JP Morgan Asset Management, Microsoft and Qualcomm.