Beijing launched China’s first pilot area for commercial autonomous driving, marking a shift from the testing phase for autonomous driving to wider commercial exploration, industry experts said. Baidu and self-driving startup Pony.ai are the first to be granted permission to offer paid services and provide up to 100 self-driving vehicles for commercial use in an area of 60 square kilometers in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone. According to the head office of the Beijing High-level Automated Driving Demonstration Area, autonomous driving service providers can adopt market-based pricing and start charging for their services. The service provided by Baidu’s Apollo Go includes over 600 pickup and drop-off points in both commercial and residential areas, Baidu said. Covering a total of 350 kilometers of roads, the service is available every day of the week from 7 am to 10 pm. By using the Apollo Go app, qualified users can locate one of a total of 67 autonomous cars in the vicinity and hail a ride by themselves.
Baidu’s autonomous driving capabilities have made rapid progress in recent months. Its robotaxi services have provided 115,000 rides in the third quarter, making Baidu the largest robotaxi service provider globally. The company plans to expand Apollo Go services to 65 cities in 2025, and 100 cities in 2030. Toyota-backed Pony.ai said about 200 sites are covered by its robotaxi service and passengers can pay for rides via Alipay or WeChat Pay. “The move is of great significance in further accelerating the large-scale commercialization of autonomous driving technology nationwide,” said Zhang Xiang, Researcher at the Automobile Industry Innovation Research Center, which is part of the North China University of Technology in Beijing. Beijing is taking the lead in the development of commercialized autonomous driving across the nation, Zhang said, adding other first-tier cities, such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen might open similar commercial pilots for self-driving services soon.
As autonomous driving technology continues to mature, the sector is poised to witness robust growth in the coming years. The market size of China’s self-driving taxi services is expected to surpass CNY1.3 trillion by 2030, accounting for 60% of the country’s ride-hailing market by then, said a report by global consultancy IHS Markit. The report said the robotaxi market will eventually be dominated by two to three major service providers, with the top providers occupying more than 40% of the total market, the China Daily reports.