WeRide kicks off a robotaxi pilot program in Guangzhou

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Local residents were lining up for having test rides offered by WeRide in the Guangzhou Science City on Thursday, November, 28, 2019. (Image credit: WeRide)
People lined up for test rides offered by WeRide in Guangzhou Science City on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Image credit: WeRide)

Self-driving startup WeRide on Thursday began piloting a robotaxi service using a fleet of Nissan cars in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Why it matters: With the debut of a robotaxi service to the general public in a first-tier Chinese city, the Guangzhou-based company has become a frontrunner in the race to commercialize autonomous vehicles.

  • The pilot program brings Japanese automaker Nissan, WeRide’s main backer, front and center in China’s robotaxi sector, a year after Alliance Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi (RNM) inked a deal as a strategic investor to the self-driving startup in October 2018 for an disclosed amount.

Details: The pilot service began operating on Thursday using ride-hailing app WeRide Go available on Android and Apple’s App Store. A fleet of 20 Nissan’s fully electric vehicles (EV) offered rides in an area 144.7 square kilometers (around 55.8 square miles) in the city’s eastern Huangpu and Guangzhou Development districts.

  • WeRide operates the service in partnership with Baiyun Taxi Group, the biggest taxi operator in south China under the Guangzhou Public Transport Group, as well as SCI Group, a local state-owned investment group.
  • The three companies formed a joint venture with registered capital of RMB 180 million in August. Zhang Li, WeRide’s chief operation officer, said that it is the main shareholder of the JV in an interview with TechNode earlier this month.
  • A human driver will be behind the wheel and all the rides are currently free of charge, although the cars are equipped with meters.
  • As part of the launch, the company sent out a number of vouchers each worth RMB 200 (around $28) to random citizens in Guangzhou Science City office park. A company spokeswoman said the invite-only service will be fully open “soon,” without providing a specific timeframe.
  • Dozens more vehicles with Level 4 autonomy, referring to a car’s ability to self-pilot under most conditions, will join the fleet in the next several months, the company said.

Context: WeRide is one of the several driverless car startups vying for a lead in China’s robotaxi industry.

  • Rival Pony.ai began offered its self-driving taxi service to a small pool of volunteers, and clocked more than 40,000 rides as of September.

The Chinese startup battling for robotaxi supremacy