Robotaxi in China
Robotaxi has been getting lots of attention since mid 2019 in China. This article is the timeline of robotaxi related events with 4 selected companies.
Robotaxi was first brought to public test by NuTonomy on limited streets of Singapore back in August 2016 followed by a few other companies doing test mainly in the US. In China, since mid 2019, the word “robotaxi” is getting lots of attention. Let’s review the robotaxi timeline of 4 selected Chinese companies this year up until now.
On April 1, Baidu jointly set up Hunan Apollo Smart Travel Technology Co. Ltd. with two local companies (Changsha Xiandao Industrial Investment and Hunan Xiangjiang Intelligent Technology Innovation Center) aiming to commercially operate 100 robotaxis in designated areas of Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province.
On June 21, Baidu was granted 45 licenses out of 49 issued to do road test for autonomous vehicles in Changsha, Hunan province.
On July 1, Baidu was granted 5 T4 licenses out of 5 issued to do road test in Beijing. T4 is the highest level license by far signifying that an autonomous vehicle possesses the ability to drive on complex urban roads, tunnels and school zones and respond to a range of complicated situations.
On August 2, the first batch of Baidu robotaxis debuted in Changsha that are Hongqi EVs equipped with Apollo autonomous driving system. Different from the refitted AVs, these robotaxis from the Chinese luxury automaker FAW Hongqi represent China’s first volume production of preinstalled level 4 autonomous vehicles.
On September 22, Baidu was granted 5 commercial licenses out of 7 issued to operate transportation service with autonomous vehicles in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province.
On September 26, Baidu officially launched robotaxi trial service to public in Changsha, Hunan province. The service involves an initial fleet of 45 autonomous Hongqi EVs, each with an assigned human operator to take control of the vehicles if needed. The service starts on 50km open roads before gradually expanding and local residents can apply on the Apollo website to be first group of users.
On June 20, WeRide received 20 licenses out of 24 issued to do road test for autonomous vehicles on designated streets in Guangzhou.
On August 7, WeRide announced the launch of a new joint venture company WeRide RoboTaxi together with Baiyun Taxi Group, the largest taxi company in southern China under Guangzhou Public Transport Group, and SCI (Guangzhou) Group.
Although not specified, given WeRide received series A led by Alliance Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi in 2018 and earlier this year displayed its prototype of level 4 autonomous vehicle which is the Nissan LEAF2, they will likely deploy Nissan model to WeRide RoboTaxi and other EV models will join the fleet in the future.
On July 25, Didi was revealed to get $600 million investment from Toyota. As part of the deal, the two companies will set up a joint venture with another partner GAC Toyota (a joint venture between Guangzhou Automobile Group and Toyota) to provide vehicle related services to drivers on Didi’s ridesharing platform.
On August 5, Didi announced its autonomous driving unit as an independent company to continue on R&D and deepen collaboration with auto industry partners.
On August 28, Didi was granted license to do road test in Shanghai. Meantime, they announced the plan to launch a robotaxi service in Shanghai where users would be able to hail autonomous vehicles from the Didi app.
On September 16, Didi was one of the three companies being granted operational license to test a fleet of up to 50 AVs in the Jiading district of Shanghai carrying passengers.
On September 26, Didi was granted license to do road test in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.
In April, it was revealed that Pony.ai has launched their robotaxi program in designated areas in Guangzhou available to Pony.ai employees and selected affiliates.
On June 20, Pony.ai received 1 license to do road test in Guangzhou.
On July 2, Pony.ai was granted T3 license to do road test in Beijing.
On August 26, Pony.ai announced its teaming up with Toyota to explore a variety of possibilities to provide safe mobility services for all. They are planning for a robotaxi program in September on public roads of Beijing and Shanghai using Lexus RX vehicles and Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system.
On September 19, Pony.ai announced the cooperation with GAC (Guangzhou Automobile Group) to build level 4 autonomous vehicles based on GAC Aion LX model. Later, the vehicles will be used in robotaxi programs.
Robotaxi is definitely one of the most rapid adoptions of autonomous vehicles at scale and a major mobility solution in the near future. As new policies are made to accelerate robotaxi’s deployment in China, the market is calling for strong strategic alliance among technology companies, automakers and mobility service platforms. We see the trend in cases above and will certainly expect innovative models to come.
(Initially published on LinkedIn on September 30, 2019.)