BMW will set up a computing center with one of its China allies, online gaming giant Tencent, to push forward the commercialization of driverless vehicles in the world’s biggest vehicle market.

Why it matters: BMW is accelerating the pace of major strategic moves as it draws closer to the mass production of its first L3 autonomous vehicle model in China in 2021.

  • The German automaker on Monday announced it partnered with Chinese navigation map provider NavInfo to develop high-definition (HD) maps necessary for driverless cars.
  • BMW started testing autonomous vehicles on experimental 5G networks earlier this year, as part of the alliance with state-owned carrier China Unicom.
  • Shanghai authorities granted the car maker road test licenses in May 2018, making it the first global OEM permitted to test self-driving cars on roads in China.

Details: The computing center will begin initial operations before the end of year, focusing on safety validation of the L3 and early research for L4 technologies before mass production of the L3 vehicle in 2021, the company said in an announcement.

  • The new computing center will reportedly be built in the eastern Chinese city of Tianjin. The details of the investment were not disclosed.
  • BMW and Tencent formed a partnership in September 2018 to develop an infotainment system, information security, and supporting infrastructure.

“Over the past year or so, the cooperation between Tencent and BMW has been deepened, which proves BMW’s recognition of Tencent’s technical strength in the fields of cloud computing, big data, security, and AI.”

—Dowson Tong, Tencent Cloud & Smart Industry president

Context: Tencent started its research in autonomous driving in 2016 with a major focus on HD mapping, data centers, and developing a simulation platform.

  • The company said in late 2018 that it will ready the production of all the data required for HD maps of China’s expressways by the middle of this year.
  • The tech giant has positioned itself as a key supplier of AV software and end-to-end solutions, and partnered with 15 automakers including FAW, GAC Group, and Geely.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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