Chinese self-driving startup AutoX has applied to test autonomous vehicles (AV) without human safety drivers in California, Reuters has reported.

Why it matters: AutoX’s move is the latest example of Chinese autonomous driving companies stepping onto the global stage in the race for dominance in driverless mobility. AutoX is seeking to leapfrog its domestic rivals Pony.ai and WeRide, both of which have reached the 1 million-kilometer fully autonomous test drive mark in November.

  • AutoX declined to disclose the number of kilometers its fully autonomous cars have test driven.

Details: AutoX has applied to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a permit to test self-driving cars on public roads without human safety drivers present, the company’s chief operating officer Jewel Li confirmed to Reuters on Thursday.

  • The permit would allow the company to operate its autonomous cars without a human safety driver in each vehicle, but requires a remote operator for emergency system intervention.
  • The state of California began accepting applications for the fully driverless vehicle tests on public roads beginning April 2018. Waymo was the first and is currently the only company that has been granted a permit. It tests about three dozen vehicles without human drivers in a designated area in Mountain View, Calif.
  • AutoX in September revealed plans to launch a fleet of 100 self-driving cars in the outskirts of Shanghai by the end of year or early 2020, as reported by TechNode. No progress has been made in government approval, people close to the matter told TechNode on Thursday.
  • The company said that it hopes to launch a robotaxi pilot service in Shanghai early next year, as well as in a number of other domestic cities including Shenzhen. The company added that it will soon expand the size of its fleet, but did not reveal additional details.
  • Several industry insiders TechNode spoke with said they believed for AutoX to gain approval would prove to be, in the words of one person, “super difficult,” as regulations in California are very strict.
  • AutoX and Pony.ai are two of the only four self-driving companies in California which have gained approval to offer self-driving rides to the public with a human driver behind the wheel.
  • Pony.ai declined to comment on whether it had applied for fully driverless tests in California.

Context: Founded by Xiao Jianxiong, a former Princeton University assistant professor, three-year-old AutoX announced in September that it had closed its $100 million Series A led by China’s second largest automaker, Dongfeng Motor, in September.

  • Other investors included Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play China fund, and Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, a Hong Kong and Taiwan-based investment program launched by the e-commerce giant.
  • Guangzhou-based AV startup WeRide announced the launch of its robotaxi pilot service with a fleet of 20 Nissan cars in Guangzhou Science City, an area 144.7 square kilometers (around 55.8 square miles) in size.
  • Pony.ai partnered with Korean automaker Hyundai and mobility firm Via to transport passengers in Irvine, Calif. starting this month. The company told TechNode that it averages more than 70 rides every day and had completed 1,271 orders as of end-November.

AutoX to launch 100 robotaxis in Shanghai by year-end, challenging Didi

Jill Shen

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

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