Chinese smart mobility start-up WeRide is making its fleet of autonomous robotaxis available to more ride-hailing users in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, through a new collaboration with the popular AutoNavi app known as Gaode.
The service, which started on Tuesday, will be offered free during its first month of operation, while the start-up continues to provide its RoboTaxis through its own WeRide Go app, according to a company statement on Tuesday.
“More people can enjoy our RoboTaxi service through this collaboration,” said WeRide chief operating officer Li Zhang, adding that the company is keen to work with other ride-hailing platforms.
That initiative marks another step forward in developing demand for autonomous vehicles in China, the world’s largest car market, as well as in helping foster increased efficiency and safety of robotaxis for ride-hailing users.
“WeRide is developing its technology and operation in parallel—with exploring new business models in the market—Li said.
The company has a fleet of 20 new RoboTaxis, which are based on Lincoln cars, deployed from 8am to 10pm every day in a geo-fenced area that stretches 144 square kilometers across the Huangpu and Guangzhou development districts in the Guangdong capital. These will share 200 pickup and drop-off spots in the area with the fleet of about 40 RoboTaxis used for the company’s own WeRide Go app, which started offering rides in the city last November.
“We believe the integration of sharing economy and autonomous driving is an important trend for transportation,” AutoNavi said in a statement. In April, AutoNavi started offering robotaxi rides in Shanghai with autonomous driving start-up AutoX.
478 million active users
AutoNavi’s Gaode app, also known as Amap, aggregates mobility services provided by more than 40 companies on its platform, which had 478 million monthly active users in March. AutoNavi, which started out as a simple maps and navigation service, was acquired by Alibaba Group Holding in 2014 for USD 1.5 billion. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
To be sure, WeRide is locked in competition with rivals like AutoX, Pony.ai and ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, some of which are better funded and ahead in terms of autonomous road tests.
In May, Didi raised more than USD 500 million for its autonomous driving subsidiary in a financing round led by SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund 2. That transaction surpassed the USD 462 million raised in February by Pony.ai in a funding round led by Toyota Motor Co.
This article was originally published by the South China Morning Post.