BEIJING — As Chinese corporations race for a slice of the world’s largest automobile market, they’re betting closely on assisted driving know-how.
China bought practically 21.5 million passenger automobiles final yr. That is roughly the equal of gross sales in the United States, Europe and Japan mixed, in accordance to trade information accessed by means of the Wind database.
Electrical automobiles have grabbed a rising share of that Chinese market. Tesla, start-ups like Nio and conventional automakers have jumped in. After initially competing on battery driving vary and in-car on-line leisure, corporations more and more emphasize assisted driving functionality.
Chinese tech big Baidu and automaker Geely are amongst these dashing to make a wager on making assisted driving a actuality.
Simply 15 months since the corporations’ Jidu electrical automobile mission launched as a part of a tie-up, the model revealed Wednesday an idea automobile it says is 90% of what prospects will get subsequent yr for about $30,000. Tesla’s Mannequin Y runs nearer to $50,000 in China.
Evolution of ‘sensible automobiles’
“It’s a car, and, even more so, a robot,” Jidu CEO Joe Xia stated throughout the livestreamed occasion in Mandarin, translated by CNBC. “We use a concept car to quickly prove our early stage design and idea.”
The four-seat car, known as Robo-01, has changed the dashboard with an extended display extending throughout the entrance of the automobile and eliminated cockpit buttons — since the driver can use voice management as an alternative, Xia stated.
Theoretically, the half-moon of a steering wheel can fold up, paving the method for a cockpit seat with no window obstructions, as soon as full self-driving is allowed on China’s roads. Two giant exterior sensors for assisted driving can retract, for aesthetics and for defense in the occasion of an emergency.
Xia claimed Jidu “can become the standard for self-driving cars.” However the firm declined to share what stage of assisted driving software program would include the automobile.
Many electrical automobiles, together with Tesla, Nio and Xpeng, offer some form of tech-enabled driving assistance. In late May, Chinese self-driving tech start-up WeRide said it received a strategic investment from German engineering company Bosch to produce an assisted driving software system for mass production and delivery next year.
“I think the definition of smart cars has evolved a lot,” said Xuan Liu, vice president at autonomous driving software start-up DeepRoute.ai, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“Consumers are considering two important factors in intelligent vehicles,” he said. “First of all, the most important one is autonomous driving. I think they are also interested in this so-called intelligent cabinet, so they want the interaction with the vehicle system.”
Jidu plans to launch a limited version of its first production model in the fall. Deliveries are set to begin next year, with a target market of family passenger vehicles priced above 200,000 yuan ($29,985), Baidu CEO Robin Li said on an earnings call in late May.
Baidu has majority ownership of Jidu, and the search giant has rolled out commercial robotaxis in parts of China using its Apollo autonomous driving system. That’s the same system, along with other tech from Baidu, that will be used in Jidu’s concept car.
Co-investor Geely did not have an official release about Jidu’s concept car, after increasing its capital support earlier this year.
Geely has pushed into the electric car industry with its own vehicles, and announced in November a multi-year plan to build up the software component of the cars. The automaker said it aimed to commercialize full self-driving under specific conditions, called “Level Four” autonomous driving in a classification system, by 2025.
Earlier this month, Geely announced its subsidiary has launched the first nine of 72 satellites to support mapping and autonomous driving.
Competing for customers
Though electric car sales have surged, interest in Jidu’s first concept car appeared modest.
About 50,000 people viewed one of the main streams on the WeChat messaging app Wednesday night.
In contrast, Nio’s annual car release event in December drew about 200,000 views, though it included a musical performance. That event introduced a new sedan and custom augmented reality glasses that can impose digital images over the real, physical world.
For companies focused on self-driving technology, they’re looking at a market at least a year or two into the future.
For Chinese consumers, the main draw of self-driving cars is getting assistance during the commute home after a long day at work, Liu said. As for the business side, it’s the possibility that lower software costs will speed up widespread use, he said.
Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro
DeepRoute.ai in April announced it cut the price of autonomous driving software from $10,000 per car to $3,000. Liu said the company was able to slash the price by using cheaper sensors but better software, and he expected the price could fall further once the start-up is able to work with automakers for mass production and deployment from 2024 onward.
While regulators have yet to allow full self-driving cars on most roads en masse, companies like DeepRoute.ai, Baidu and others are building data records through their robotaxi operations.
Liu said such data can help improve algorithms for self-driving technology, and build a track record to support potential changes in regulation.