Over the past few years, there has been an increasing focus on autonomous vehicles of all forms, shapes, and sizes. In China, research and development of this new form of transportation has taken an interesting turn. WeRide, a domestic startup, will attempt to launch their first commercial autonomous taxis in two cities later this year. This is done in an effort to rival the likes of Google and Uber.
Commercial Autonomous Taxis Come to China
It is commendable to see so many different companies work on autonomous vehicle technology. Despite this form of innovation being met with a lot of doubt and skepticism, it would appear there is a genuine market for autonomous vehicles. In fact, several companies are confident their research and development has allowed them to commercialize these efforts in the months and years to come. A bit of an optimistic outlook, albeit WeRide is taking their business model to a whole new level.
In a recent press release, the company confirmed its commercial autonomous taxis are coming to the cities of Guangzhou and Anqing. This new project will begin in July of 2019, which will allow the startup to directly compete with the likes of Uber and Google. It was a matter of time until a Chinese company tried to get in on the action, although that is often much easier said than done.
It is worth noting WeRide has been conducting trials with autonomous vehicles for quite some time now. With 50 of these vehicles driving around the country of China already, it was a matter of time until the company stepped up its game accordingly. The current goal is to double the number of vehicles to 100 by late 2019 and even achieve the 500-vehicle milestone by late 2020. A very ambitious plan, although one that is not unattainable by any means.
Achieving such short-term success would not be possible without the backing of some major partners. WeRide has the support of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance’s venture fund, as well as SenseTime. It would also appear the company will use Nissan Leaf electric cars as its “base” for the autonomous vehicles project in mainland China. A smart approach, as electric vehicles are becoming more commonplace in various parts of the world.
While it is evident WeRide is going up against some very big competitors, the startups is confident they will succeed. By actively focusing on the Chinese market first and foremost, there is a major market waiting to be tapped. Uber and Google are primarily focused on the US market at this time, which has grown rather competitive in recent years. Even so, WeRide will still face major challenges in terms of catching up with those existing players.
To make this service appealing to consumers, WeRide will launch a smartphone application which indicates where autonomous taxis can be picked up. For now, most of the major tourist places and shopping malls will be supported as destinations. Although drivers will be present during the first stage of this “experiment”, the payments will be done cashless. In the next two years, the drivers will be removed from the equation, assuming this trial doesn’t run into major problems along the way.