Weride, a Chinese self-driving startup backed by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, is making its autonomous vehicles available for ride-hailing on Alibaba’s map platform Amap, also known as Autonavi. Starting Tuesday, riders in Guangzhou can summon one of WeRide’s self-driving electric cars for a ride through the app, the company said.

Why it matters: Autonavi is currently the most popular mapping and navigation service provider in China and the partnership is expected to enable the AV startup to accelerate the pace to scale up the robotaxi business and make the technology more widely available for public riders.

  • Autonavi ranked in April as top of the most popular mapping service with 902 million monthly active users (MAUs), nearly double that of Baidu’s mapping app, according to figures from Chinese moble internet research firm Trustdata (in Chinese).

Details: Customers can hail one of Weride’s self-driving cabs via Autonavi or proprietary ride-hailing app “WeRide Go” in a geo-fenced area of 144.7 square kilometers (around 55.8 square miles) across the Huangpu and Guangzhou Development districts, the company announced Tuesday.

  • The service is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, with over 200 pick-up/drop-off spots. The size of the fleet has recently doubled to 40 Nissan electric cars running on public roads on the outskirts of Guangzhou, the company said. It has a testing fleet of 100 vehicles in China and the US.
  • China currently requires all AVs to have a safety driver behind the wheel while on the road.
  • Guangzhou-based Weride launched China’s first robotaxi pilot service available to the public in the city late last year. The company claimed completion of 8,396 orders for 4,683 passengers with zero accidents in December, the first month of operation, without revealing the latest figures.
  • Googles self-driving unit Waymo completed 4,678 trips for a total of 6,299 passengers in its first month of a robotaxi pilot project in September last year in California. Waymo’s robotaxi service is limited to employees and their guests, Techcrunch reported.
  • Weride said the number of orders in April tripled from a month earlier, after a temporary suspension during the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • Weride has been working on a Series B funding round since September last year. Its early backers include RNM Alliance, Chinese venture capital firms Qiming Venture Partners, Kai-fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures, and Harry Shum, former chief of artificial intelligence research at Microsoft.

Context: Chinese self-driving startups and mobility giants have been pushing hard to meet the technical and regulatory challenges needed in a journey towards a driverless future.

  • Speaking at an online meeting hosted by South China Morning Post on Tuesday, Weride CEO Tony Han said China lags behind US in self-driving technology advancement by about one to two years, but is “more advanced in operations.”
  • Didi Chuxing is about to launch a commercial robotaxi pilot service in Shanghai “very soon,” Meng Xing, COO of Didi’s self-driving unit said on Tuesday during an online conference, expecting mass production of AVs to begin in 2025. 1 million AVs could be available on the platform by 2030, Meng added.
  • Alibaba-backed AV startup Autox claims it won Shanghai approval to trial passenger transport services ahead of Didi, adding that Shanghai has been conservative in handing out licenses, Financial Times reported last month, citing CEO Xiao Jianxiong.
  • It in April also announced a partnership with Autonavi, with plans to begin autonomous ride-hailing services in Shanghai, without revealing further details.
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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