Drone maker DJI is about to see its in-car system used on a mass-produced electric vehicle for the first time through a partnership with SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW), General Motors’ China joint venture with SAIC Motor and Liuzhou Wuling Automobile, a small Chinese automobile company. On Thursday, the automaker announced that it will launch an EV using DJI’s automated driving technology, making it the drone maker’s first major project in the competitive sector.  

Why it matters: The launch marks a first milestone for the world’s largest maker of consumer drones in its push into the Chinese EV space and reflects the growing trend of traditional automakers partnering with tech companies to bring self-driving cars to market.

Details: The automaker said that it has worked hand-in-hand with DJI in developing intelligent vehicles since 2019,  investing “several billions of RMB” in the project and having undergone 1 million kilometers (631,371 miles) of vehicle testing, in a statement (in Chinese) published Thursday on SGMW’s WeChat account.

  • The statement is sparse on details about the collaboration, but Chinese financial media outlet Caixin reported that the automaker plans to fit DJI-developed automated driving functions on Wuling Baojun Kiwi EV, a mini two-door EV launched last August.
  • Full specifications, pricing details, and the launch date of the revamped model remain unclear. The original Kiwi EV is priced between RMB 77,800 and RMB 86,800 ($11,639 and $12,968) and has an estimated driving range of 305 kilometers (190 miles), according to the company.
  • Company insiders told Caixin that the in-car software will allow assisted lane changing, automated driving in congested traffic, and other automated driving technologies and that the vehicle’s features will receive regular software updates.   

Context: DJI first launched its auto unit in 2016 and operated with nearly 1,000 employees as of last year, as the Shenzhen drone unicorn steps up its efforts to enter China’s booming EV market.

  • SGMW’s affordable Hongguang Mini EV was the best-selling EV model in China in 2021. It recorded sales of 395,451 units last year, easily beating BYD’s Qin sedan and Tesla’s popular Model 3, which sold 187,227 and 150,890 units, respectively, according to figures from the China Passenger Car Association.
  • Chinese tech giants Huawei and Baidu also continue expanding into the industry, while young EV makers Xpeng Motors and Nio have catapulted ahead of the competition by developing their own in-house autonomous driving systems.
  • Huawei and its manufacturing partner Chongqing Sokon are on track to roll out their second EV model M7 by the end of this month, while the telecommunications giant has also established partnerships with state-owned automakers BAIC, Changan, and GAC, Chinese media reported on May 28, citing chief executive of consumer business at the firm, Richard Yu.
  • Baidu has teamed with domestic automakers such as BYD and Dongfeng, and plans to roll out its first consumer car with partner Geely later this year, while also supplying vehicle software technology to WM Motor, an EV startup backed by the search engine giant.

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