Fiat Chrysler, in partnership with Chinese-based AutoX, wants to launch robo-taxis in China later this year, according to an announcement. The automobile maker, one of the "Big Three" in Detroit, has been casting a wide net for autonomous vehicle tech, and wants to keep pace with rivals in Detroit. Hong Kong's AutoX said it plans to integrate self-driving vehicle tech into a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans -- the same vehicle that Waymo, Alphabet's subsidiary known for its work on autonomous vehicles, has often chosen to use. The two companies said they plan to offer up the self-driving cars this year in numerous Chinese cities, including Shenzhen and Shanghai, later in 2020. AutoX -- a lesser-known startup than others in the field -- was founded in 2016 by Jianxiong Xiao, a former Princeton professor who specializes in 3D learning, computer vision and robotics.
Outside of Beijing and Shanghai, many Chinese city dwellers don't own cars, but the country's growing middle class has its sights set on individual ownership. That's a business opportunity for automakers, who already see China as a huge market, and it's why Volkswagen just announced Jetta, a new brand aimed at China's younger customers. The brand is named after one of VW's most popular vehicles, and it will begin by selling one sedan and two SUVs later this year. The goal is to target "entry-level mobility," or first-time car buyers, who according to VW, account for a third of the Chinese market and are currently served mostly by local brands. Though VW's sales in China were down about two percent last year, China is still VW's largest single market, and there's room to grow.
Ecommerce giant Alibaba wants to make the process of purchasing a new vehicle as easy as buying a can of Coke, launching an "auto vending machine" to target the largest new car market in the world. The Super Test-Drive Center in Guangzhou was launched earlier this year by Alibaba's Tmall and the Ford Motor Group with the goal to "dramatically" improve the car shopping experience for Chinese consumers. Discussing the initiative with ZDNet at Alibaba's 11.11 Global Shopping Festival in Shanghai on Sunday, company representatives said that the initiative isn't limited to Ford vehicles, and that the likes of Volvo and BMW will soon be on board. To test-drive a car, Alibaba app users will need to have over 700 points on Alibaba's credit-scoring system, Zhima Credit, and be an accredited Alibaba Super Member. Customers can browse and select models they want to test-drive via the app catalogue, and after having their eligibility confirmed, the customer is required to take a photo using the app to allow for biometric authentication.
While Tesla has spent the past six months struggling to ramp up production of the Model 3 and fielding criticism over its Autopilot tech and safety protocols, one of its most intriguing wannabe rivals, Byton, has spent the first half of 2018 positioning itself to swipe Elon Musk's electric innovation crown. The coup d'EV started in January at CES, with the reveal of a screen-stuffed concept SUV. In February, Byton announced a partnership with star-studded Aurora to bring self-driving smarts to its vehicles. And today, at CES Asia in Shanghai, it unveiled a second concept car, a small sedan that can't help but make you think of a certain car rolling off the assembly line in Silicon Valley. Byton's new ride is the K-Byte, a three-box sedan with the front wheels pushed as far forward as possible.
Back in March, the Volkswagen Group dropped rendered concept images of its futuristic Sedric, an autonomous vehicle that would take riders to their destination at the touch of a button -- no human driving required. At Auto Shanghai 2017, VW showed off a real version of its autonomous concept vehicle. As previously shown, the automater has completely removed the cockpit in favor of pure passenger space, which would which would make it capable of level 5 autonomous driving. The VW Group wants Sedric's autonomous driving to be so simple that passengers press a button to get it going. The automaker recently announced its partnership with smartwatch maker Mobvoi, which will craft the AI digital assistance interface getting plugged into Sedric, as well as VW's other self-driving cars down the line.