Au­tonomous ve­hi­cles gain­ing more ground

China Daily - - BUSINESS - By FAN FEIFEI fan­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

A fu­ture of au­tonomous driv­ing con­tin­ues to be­come re­al­ity in China, as lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and pri­vate firms work to­gether to test the po­ten­tially life-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy with over 100 num­ber plates handed out for pub­lic road tests.

In all, the coun­try has now is­sued 101 li­cense plates for self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles owned by 32 com­pa­nies across 14 cities, with Chi­nese in­ter­net search giant Baidu Inc ob­tain­ing the most with more than 50 plates, ac­cord­ing to China Au­to­mo­tive In­for­ma­tion Net.

Bei­jing has is­sued more li­censes for the pub­lic road test­ing of self­driv­ing cars than any other city, top­ping the list with 56, fol­lowed by Chongqing (11) and Shang­hai (7).

Ac­cord­ing to the Bei­jing In­no­va­tion Cen­ter for Mo­bil­ity In­tel­li­gent, a ser­vice provider of road tests for au­tonomous ve­hi­cles, the Bei­jing gov­ern­ment has is­sued li­cense plates to seven com­pa­nies, and as of Novem­ber 2018, self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles have trav­eled 125,600 kilo­me­ters on test roads around the city.

For the tests, Bei­jing has marked out 44 roads, to­tal­ing 123 kilo­me­ters, for au­tonomous car test­ing. One in Yizhuang, a south­ern sub­urb in Bei­jing, is 74.4 kilo­me­ters long, mak­ing it the long­est among all Chi­nese cities.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in Bei­jing re­leased the coun­try’s first guideline on road tests of au­tonomous ve­hi­cles in De­cem­ber 2017, fol­lowed by a closed test­ing ground for au­tonomous cars in Fe­bru­ary 2018.

On March 1, au­thor­i­ties in Shang­hai then is­sued the coun­try’s first road test li­censes to two smart car­mak­ers, SAIC Mo­tor Corp Ltd and elec­tric ve­hi­cle startup Nio Auto.

Baidu also ob­tained its li­cense to test its self-driv­ing cars on open roads in Bei­jing in March, be­com­ing the first en­ter­prise to con­duct road tests in des­ig­nated zones in the cap­i­tal.

To­day, Shang­hai has 37.2 kilo­me­ters of roads al­low­ing for the test­ing of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, made up of ur­ban main roads, ur­ban sec­ondary trunk roads, and in­dus­trial parks.

The city has is­sued seven li­cense plates to five com­pa­nies — SAIC, Nio, BMW, TuSim­ple and Mo­menta — to con­duct self-driv­ing road tests. The last two firms will use their plates to test au­tonomous trucks.

Zhuang Wen­wei, chair­man of Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Au­to­mo­bile City, said more than 90 en­ter­prises, in­clud­ing au­tomak­ers and com­pa­nies en­gaged in in­tel­li­gent net­work driv­ing sys­tems, are ap­ply­ing for road tests. More are ex­pected to gain their li­censes this year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Eco­nomic and In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sion, road tests for in­tel­li­gent net­work ve­hi­cles ex­ceeded 15,000 km by the end of Sep­tem­ber. De­spite the thou­sands of hours of non-hu­man driv­ing, no traf­fic ac­ci­dents or in­ter­fer­ence with road trans­porta­tion oc­curred dur­ing the tests, the com­mis­sion said.

“More tests are needed be­fore such ve­hi­cles can reach mass pro­duc­tion and en­ter large-scale com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tion be­cause of wide­spread safety con­cerns,” said Zeng Zhiling, man­ag­ing direc­tor of LMC Au­to­mo­tive Con­sult­ing Co.

Of­fi­cials have high hopes for the mar­ket. China ex­pects ve­hi­cles with some au­tonomous func­tions to ac­count for half of new ve­hi­cles sold in the na­tion by 2020, ac­cord­ing to a guideline re­leased by the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment and Re­form Com­mis­sion.

In April, the na­tion re­leased a na­tional guideline on road tests for self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, as part of a broader drive to ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of the tech­nol­ogy and gain the ad­van­tage in com­mer­cial­iz­ing such ve­hi­cles.

The reg­u­la­tion al­lows lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to eval­u­ate lo­cal con­di­tions and ar­range road tests for au­tonomous ve­hi­cles. It states that the test ve­hi­cles should be pas­sen­ger or com­mer­cial au­to­mo­biles, not low-speed ve­hi­cles or mo­tor­cy­cles.

Be­sides Bei­jing and Shang­hai, ex­ten­sive test­ing is also tak­ing place in a to­tal of 14 other cities around China, in­clud­ing Shen­zhen and Guangzhou in Guang­dong prov­ince, Hangzhou in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, Wuhan in Hubei prov­ince, and Chongqing, where seven au­tomak­ers are test­ing on 12.5 kilo­me­ters of pub­lic roads.

How­ever, ex­perts have warned firms to go cau­tiously, es­pe­cially when it comes to peo­ple’s safety.

“Com­pa­nies should in­vest and es­tab­lish more test­ing sites that im­i­tate dif­fer­ent traf­fic sce­nar­ios rather than test­ing their ve­hi­cles on ur­ban roads pre­ma­turely,” said Lin Jian, a se­nior en­gi­neer in the au­to­mo­bile en­gi­neer­ing de­part­ment at Ts­inghua Univer­sity.

Zhao Xiang, an an­a­lyst with in­ter­net con­sul­tancy Analysys, said self­driv­ing tech­nol­ogy is still fac­ing a num­ber of ob­sta­cles be­fore be­ing rolled out for com­mer­cial use.

She said tech­no­log­i­cal hur­dles in­clude the ac­cu­racy of dig­i­tal maps and the high cost of laser sen­sors used in the self-driv­ing sys­tems.

China will step up its ef­forts this year to ex­pand over­seas com­pa­nies’ ac­cess to the coun­try’s tele­com and in­ter­net mar­ket, with more busi­nesses open to over­seas cap­i­tal, amid the on­go­ing push to fur­ther drive for­ward open­ing-up, an­a­lysts said.

The com­ments came after of­fi­cial data showed that 121 over­seas com­pa­nies have been ap­proved to en­gage in busi­nesses in­clud­ing run­ning data cen­ters, telecoms and in­for­ma­tion pro­cess­ing ser­vices in China by the end of 2018, mark­ing year-on-year growth of 39 per­cent.

Xiang Li­gang, CEO of in­dus­try web­site Cc­time, said since the start of China’s re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy, big strides have been made to open the tele­com and in­for­ma­tion sec­tor to over­seas in­vestors, giv­ing over­seas com­pa­nies equal treat­ment.

“With China pledg­ing to fur­ther its push to lure over­seas in­vest­ment, greater ac­cess to the coun­try’s giant pool of ne­ti­zens and tele­com ser­vice users can be ex­pected,” Xiang said.

As of 2018, the Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, the coun­try’s top in­dus­try reg­u­la­tor, has green­lit 86 over­seas com­pa­nies to en­gage in tele­com-re­lated ser­vices, and 35 com­pa­nies have been ap­proved by the Shang­hai Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Over­seas in­vest­ments are most in­ter­ested in of­fer­ing ser­vices in­clud­ing on­line data pro­cess­ing and trans­ac­tion pro­cess­ing, in­for­ma­tion ser­vices, and do­mes­tic call cen­ter busi­nesses, said the China Academy of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Tech­nol­ogy, a gov­ern­ment think tank, in a re­port.

The above three busi­nesses, listed in or­der of pop­u­lar­ity, ac­counted for 81 per­cent of all busi­ness li­censes the two reg­u­la­tors have given.

Among the over­seas com­pa­nies the MIIT have ap­proved, Shang­hai, Bei­jing and Guang­dong prov­ince are the top three des­ti­na­tions for over­seas tele­com in­vest­ment, with the num­ber of reg­is­tered over­seas com­pa­nies hit­ting 54, 25, and 17 in each re­spec­tively, the re­port added.

Fu Liang, an in­de­pen­dent tele­com an­a­lyst who has been fol­low­ing the sec­tor for 10 years, said more over­seas in­vestors are likely to head to sec­ond-tier, even third-tier cities, to ex­plore busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties, given the tele­com net­work now cov­ers al­most ev­ery vil­lage in China.

“Also, the scope of busi­nesses open to over­seas com­pa­nies will grow wider, which can help over­seas com­pa­nies bet­ter un­der­stand the Chi­nese mar­ket, fully ac­cess it, and com­pete with lo­cal ri­vals on an equal play­ing field,” Fu added.

One ex­am­ple of this is when over­seas com­pa­nies were al­lowed to be­come vir­tual net­work op­er­a­tors in China last year, as part of the gov­ern­ment’s at­tempts to pro­vide com­pe­ti­tion in the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tele­com in­dus­try.

Ac­cord­ing to the rule, over­seas in­vestors can ap­ply to re­sell tele­com ser­vices as own-brand mo­bile phone ser­vices. The hope for con­sumers is that the pri­vately run com­pa­nies could of­fer dis­counts and chal­lenge a mar­ket cur­rently dom­i­nated by three big State-owned en­ter­prises.

When it comes to sources of fund­ing, the re­port by CAITC said over half of the 121 ap­proved com­pa­nies in the Chi­nese tele­com in­dus­try are backed by Hong Kong in­vestors, fol­lowed by in­vestors from the United States and Ja­pan. To­gether, the three ac­count for 75 per­cent of all the mar­ket’s cap­i­tal.

More im­por­tantly, 37 com­pa­nies, or about 30 per­cent of all ap­proved com­pa­nies’ are solely funded by over­seas cap­i­tal, with seven more at least half funded by over­seas in­vestors.

“China is re­mov­ing the cap on over­seas own­er­ship of joint ven­tures in the coun­try. The progress has al­ready been seen in the au­to­mo­bile sec­tor. The telecoms in­dus­try is highly likely to be the next one to ben­e­fit from the change,” Fu added.

In 2018, China re­moved over­seas own­er­ship caps on new en­ergy ve­hi­cle ven­tures, and it is set to scrap own­er­ship caps on com­mer­cial car pro­duc­ers in 2020, and on pas­sen­ger car pro­duc­ers start­ing in 2022.

Frank Meng, chair­man of Qual­comm China, the lo­cal branch of the United States-based chip giant, said in an ear­lier in­ter­view that he is quite amazed by what China has done in the last 40 years of re­form and open­ing-up.

“Qual­comm has been in China for over two decades, and China has long be­come one of the most im­por­tant re­gions for us,” Meng said.

“We are proud that our unique ‘In­vent — Share — Col­lab­o­rate’ busi­ness model has brought to­gether the ecosys­tems of China and the US to cre­ate a tremen­dous suc­cess be­tween the two coun­tries. Over the years, our part­ner­ships in China have been ex­panded across the en­tire ecosys­tem,” he added.

ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY

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