Assisted driving in China
Based in China, we have been looking hard at the rise of automated vehicles as part of the race to dominate the domestic car market.
China is the biggest car market in the world, with over 21 million passenger vehicles sold in 2021. That’s around the same as the combined total sales in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Electric cars have been taking an increasingly large slice out of the domestic Chinese market with Tesla, some start-ups, plus established carmakers joining in the scramble for market share. Where once battery range was the delineating factor that all competed on, now the competition is moving more towards assisted driving capabilities, we believe.
Chinese giant Baidu and car manufacturer Geely are two of those rushing to gamble on turning assisted driving into an everyday reality.
Just one year and three months since the start of the joint E venture that is controlled by Baidu and co-funded by Chinese carmaker Geely, the Jidu electric car project was officially launched Wednesday. At present, it is still a concept car but is around 90% of what buyers will get when it is available to buy in 2023 and will only cost approximately $30,000 in China, Jidu claim, compared to around $50,000 for the Tesla Model Y.
Jidu CEO Joe Xia called the vehicle ‘more of a robot than a car’ during a recent live-streamed event adding that they had used the concept to quickly prove their early-stage design and ideas. The vehicle, called Robo-01, has four seats and has substituted a dashboard for a long screen that extends across the front of the cabin. The CEO also said physical buttons had been deleted as the vehicle is voice-controlled.
The half-moon of a steering wheel can be folded away, enabling the ‘driver’ to have a completely clear vision ahead without any obstructions once full self-driving is legal in China. Baidu already has permission to use autonomous ride-hailing services within a 60-square-kilometer area of Beijing.
Jidu “can become the benchmark for self-driving cars,” CEO Xia claimed. But the company failed to provide detailed information about what level of assisted driving software will come with the car.
Many electric cars, including Tesla and Nio, offer some tech-led driving assistance. For example, in late May, Chinese self-driving tech start-up WeRide said it received investment from German engineering company Bosch to make assisted driving software systems for mass production and delivery in 2023.
Customers are looking for two crucial features in intelligent vehicles, the first is autonomous driving, and the second is the so-called intelligent cabinet so they can interact with the car.
Jidu says it will launch a limited version of its first vehicle later this year with regular deliveries beginning in 2023, targeting family passenger vehicles priced above the equivalent of around $30,000, Baidu CEO Robin Li said last month.
In addition to working with Baidu on the Jidu project, Geely has moved into the electric car market with its own branded vehicles. Last November, it announced a multi-year plan to develop the software needed for the cars. The company also said it has plans to commercialize full self-driving under specific conditions, called Level Four autonomous driving, within three years. To facilitate this, a Geely subsidiary launched the first 9 of 72 satellites needed to support mapping and autonomous driving earlier in June.
Though electric car sales have soared, interest in Jidu’s first concept vehicle appeared muted, with approximately 50,000 people viewing the main stream on the WeChat messaging app compared to Nio’s car release event last December, which included a musical performance, and had around 200,000 viewers. That event showcased a new sedan and augmented reality glasses that can show digital images over the top of the real world.
Those companies concentrating on self-driving technology are looking at a market at least a year or two ahead.
For Chinese customers, the main attraction of self-driving cars is being able to rest on the long commute to and from work. It is possible that with advances in technology leading to lower costs, the rollout could happen sooner than planned.
DeepRoute.ai, the self-driving technology company headquartered in Shenzhen and California, recently cut the price of autonomous driving software from $10,000 per vehicle to $3,000 by using less expensive sensors but higher quality software, and the price could fall further once the start-up is able to work with EV makers on mass production from 2024.
While fully self-driving cars are yet to be allowed on roads en-masse, companies like DeepRoute.ai, Baidu, and others are developing their data records through self-driving taxi operations, which will help their algorithms for self-driving technology in the future.