More Chinese automakers collaborating on EVs -- The automotive industry has entered into an intense era of collaboration among carmakers, technology giants, and even software start-ups, among others. This trend comes as countries, including China, accelerate into increased usage of EVs and AVs. Numerous partnerships have sprouted up in the past year, adding density and life to this ecosystem. Among Chinese automakers themselves, a handful of significant partnerships were made to accelerate the developments of EVs and AVs within the country. In fact, China is shaping up to be the first real test of Big Tech's ambitions in the world of car making.
Autonomous driving startups in China are in an arms race to put passengers in their machine-driven vehicles. Every few weeks, news arrives that another major player has got the greenlight to launch a new pilot program or a small-scale service. These press releases, often dotted with regulatory jargon and flowery language to aggrandize the companies' progress, can be confusing. That's why we put together this post summarizing the progress of China's major robotaxi operators -- AutoX, Baidu, Deeproute.ai, Didi, Momenta, Pony.ai and WeRide -- in 2021 while trying to parse what their announcements actually mean.
Chinese startup Momenta will begin test runs by October of self-driving taxis that require no human input, the company said Tuesday, aiming to make its fleet fully driverless by 2024. The "level 4" autonomous vehicles -- which can drive themselves in limited areas -- initially will have a person in the driver's seat for safety reasons. Testing starts in the city of Suzhou, near Shanghai. Momenta, whose investors include German automaker Daimler and internet services giant Tencent Holdings, looks to turn a profit in 2024 and start large-scale operation around China by 2028. The announcement comes amid a rush into China's robotaxi market by companies such as Baidu and startups Pony.ai and AutoX.
AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country. They also talked about overseas expansion -- a common trajectory for China's top autonomous vehicle startups -- and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market. Worldwide, regulations play a great role in the development of autonomous vehicles. In China, policymaking for autonomous driving is driven from the bottom up rather than a top-down effort by the central government, observed executives from the three Chinese robotaxi startups. Huan Sun, Europe general manager at Momenta, which is backed by the government of Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, said her company had a "very good experience" working with the municipal governments across multiple cities.
Across the street from Suzhou North, a high-speed railway station in a historic city near Shanghai, a futuristic M-shaped building easily catches the eye of anyone passing by. It houses the headquarters of the five-year-old Chinese autonomous driving startup, Momenta. Like other major Chinese cities, Suzhou, which is famous for its serene canals and classical gardens, offers subsidized offices and policy support to attract high-tech firms. It seems to have chosen well. Momenta exceeded $1 billion in valuation in two years and became one of the most-funded driving companies in China.