Baidu on Thursday unveiled a new robotaxi model, called Apollo Moon, with a manufacturing cost significantly lower than competitors. The Chinese search engine giant hopes to expand its business and commercialize an autonomous ride-hailing service.

Why it matters: The robocar is not being sold, but manufacturing costs are now comparable to the price of a high-end consumer car.

  • High cost is one of the main barriers for robotaxi to see wider use. French market intelligence company Yole Développement estimated in 2018 that a robocar cost at least $200,000 on average. 

Details: Baidu’s Apollo Moon will cost the company RMB 480,000 (around $75,000) to manufacture. It costs the company less to manufacture than its rivals, but it’s hard to compare with since these are internal costs making. 

  • Ride-hailing giant Didi’s autonomous vehicle costs the company about RMB 1 million (around $155,000), about two times Apollo’s, according to a Chinese media report last June. Baidu said at a Thursday press event in Beijing that the robocar is at a third of the cost of competitors’.
  • Co-developed with Chinese automaker BAIC Group, the electric test vehicle runs on Baidu’s driverless software and has a suite of cameras and sensors, including two lidar sensors that provide the car surrounding visuals.
  • The company also announced plans to add more than 1,000 of these vehicles to a ride-hailing test fleet while aiming to commercialize a nationwide robotaxi pilot service over the next three years.
  • According to Baidu’s announcement, the company currently has a testing fleet with more than 500 vehicles and logged over 12 million kilometers (around 7.5 million miles), since its founding in 2013. The travel distance is about a third of Waymo’s, Google’s self-driving unit.

Context: In mid-2019, Baidu began testing a public ride-hailing service in a downtown area of Changsha, the capital city of central Hunan province, after road testing in suburban areas and closed test sites for six years. 

  • The company has since expanded the robotaxi service to more Chinese cities, including Beijing and Chongqing, but only in limited areas. It began charging passengers with 10 selected testing vehicles on the outskirts of Beijing last month, becoming the first company allowed to do so by the Chinese government.
  • BAIC Group also partnered with Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei to deliver a consumer-facing car model called Alpha S by the end of this year. Huawei will provide software for a self-driving mode. Drivers still need to stay attentive in the self-driving mode.

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