China’s capital Beijing opens a robotaxi line to the train station

Robotaxi operator has begun testing rides with human staff between a Beijing suburb and a major high-speed train station.

CNBC | Evelyn Cheng

BEIJING – For three years, the Chinese capital Beijing has taken rapid steps to allow robotaxis to operate closer to the city center.

This month, the city began testing robotaxis with staff inside to run a 40-minute route between a major high-speed train station and the suburbs to the south.

Ning Zhang, vice president of and head of the Beijing research and development center, told CNBC that the route between Beijing South Station and the suburb of Yizhuang will open robot taxi services to the public in next week or two. in an exclusive interview on Thursday. He cited pending government permits.

By the end of this year or early next, Zhang hopes the train station line will be completely unmanned, with no staff inside.

The latest route marks a significant expansion of robotaxi operations from the outskirts of Beijing to the city center. The capital is laid out with highways, nicknamed “rings”, that form concentric circles around the city center.

Baidu self-driving taxi driver

Yizhuang suburb is outside the fifth ring road. Beijing South Station is located inside the third ring road.

Zhang said there is a view that Beijing will not allow robotaxis to cross the fifth ring road.

“Now, we are breaking that boundary,” he said.

“This is a big progress, and because Beijing is willing to make such a big move, this will be a very good example to set for the whole of China,” he said.

In November 2021Beijing Municipality has allowed robotaxi operators and Baidu’s Apollo Go to collect fees for public rides in Yizhuang, a first step toward eliminating costs for drivers.

Less than two years later, the Beijing government allowed robotaxi companies removing staff from certain public-facing cars and still collect ticket fees. Users can call taxis using designated applications.

Beijing government at the end of February Expand the area of ​​operation for staffed, public-facing robotaxis to Daxing International Airport, near Yizhuang. According to a government announcement, in addition to and Baidu, AutoX and WeRide have received operating licenses.

By the end of the year, Zhang hopes the city will allow robotaxi operations around Beijing Capital International Airport in the north. The next expansion will include four more railway stations in the city, he said.

As for, he predicts more than 50 fully driverless taxis will be operating in Beijing by the end of the year.

In the next two years, he hopes Beijing will allow robotaxis to run between the sixth and fourth ring roads regardless of district in the city. That will require to have a robot taxi fleet of 1,000 vehicles ready by the end of 2025, he said, noting that the startup is partnering with Toyota for mass production of cars.

Zhang said when there are 500 to 1,000 robotaxis in a city, the operation can break even. With the scale, he expects business growth “will be exponential in the following years”.

That also depends on the speed of legal assistance. Within the next three to five years, Zhang hopes Beijing will allow the use of automated taxis across the city.

Robotaxis in America

Meanwhile, global interest in robotaxis has grown, with Alphabet’s Waymo expand operations on the west coast.

In April, Elon Musk announced that Tesla will revealed its robotaxi on August 8.

When asked about Musk’s plans, Zhang said hopes that Tesla’s entry into the industry can help “reshape” the transportation industry. But in his view, he says Tesla’s Full Self-Driving technology is better for driver assistance than a completely driverless system.

As for other Chinese robotaxi operators, Zhang does not expect fierce competition in the next few years while the nascent industry is still in the process of attracting attention.

Baidu said Apollo Go operates about 826,000 trips in the first quarter, up from 660,000 trips in the same period a year ago. As of April 19, the cumulative number of rides exceeded 6 million.

During Baidu’s latest earnings call, CEO Robin Li said the company expects its robotaxi business to narrow losses for the rest of the year, according to a FactSet transcript. He added that Baidu’s latest robotaxi vehicle costs less than $30,000 without batteries.

The Beijing municipal government in May 2024 began allowing robotaxis testing at a major high-speed train station in the south of the city.

CNBC | Evelyn Cheng


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