Even as autonomous-vehicle technology gets better, the thought of being in a driverless car is as scary as a few years ago. The news around faulty experiments makes that worse. Big, bold plans of intelligent auto self-navigation aren’t where they were forecast to be. Except in China.
Much like it took a lead on electric vehicles, China may do so with connected and intelligent automobiles — because it’s part of Beijing’s blueprint. The country’s progress on autonomous vehicles is underpinned by the government’s renewed push to bring in regulation. In a bid to commercialise driverless mobility, the transportation ministry in August released draft rules for self-driving autos while the industrial technology hub of Shenzhen became the first city to allow them on its roads. In Beijing, Pony.ai Inc. and Baidu Inc. have received permits to operate robotaxis. Now, eight major cities are running trials with the driverless ride-hailing services, where passengers can travel for free or a nominal fee.
As the market for intelligent vehicles grows, China’s share is also expanding. The country is forecast to have a grasp on around half of the 1.7 trillion-yuan ($237 billion) industry by 2025, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. analysts.
Beijing’s endorsement of AVs isn’t part of a fad to keep up with evolving technology. Unlike other parts of the world, where regulatory backing has been one of the biggest barriers, China has actively made way for driverless cars through detailed legislation, permits and special zones since 2015 when the State Council identified it as a key focus area over the following decade.