saic, gm and vw’s chinese partner, ties up with autonomous driving start-up pony.ai to develop driverless vehicles

Shanghai-based SAIC Motor, the Chinese partner of General Motors and Volkswagen, has tied up with autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai to develop driverless cars as the mainland’s “Motown” jostles for pole position in the sector.

The two companies aim to build a fleet of vehicles equipped with Level 4 (L4) autonomous driving systems to promote Shanghai’s autonomous driving sector and relevant policies, Pony said in a statement on Tuesday.

It did not provide further details, including when the cars would hit the streets.

“SAIC is a world-class automotive company, and Pony.ai is a leader in autonomous driving technology. Together we will break through tech boundaries and accelerate the development of driverless technology and promote and advance the application of driverless technology,” James Peng, Pony.ai’s co-founder and CEO, said in the statement.

saic, gm and vw’s chinese partner, ties up with autonomous driving start-up pony.ai to develop driverless vehicles

A concept vehicle developed by Pony.ai and SAIC Motor based on the Marvel R model. Photo: Handout

Toyota-backed Pony is one of only two autonomous driving companies allowed by mainland regulators to offer robotaxi services in China, along with internet search giant Baidu.

L4 autonomous driving does not require human intervention in most circumstances, but the driver still has the option to take over control, according to global standardisation body SAE Inter­national.

L5, or full driving automation, does not need any human intervention under any circumstances. Most autonomous driving technologies currently used are classified as L2 or L2+.

Shanghai, where one in nine cars made in China is assembled, has been lagging behind mainland cities including Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan in developing autonomous vehicles, but the city government has outlined its ambitions to develop the sector.

On Tuesday, Shanghai launched a driverless demonstration zone in the northern Jiading district. The first 1.2 kilometres section of the road in the pilot project has been constructed and ready for use. Another 2.6km is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“SAIC Motor, as a state-owned carmaker, is carrying Shanghai’s hopes of developing autonomous driving vehicles,” said Phate Zhang, founder of Shanghai-based electric-­vehicle news site CnEVpost. “Collaborating with Pony that grasps leading autonomous driving technologies will accelerate the development pace and commercialisation of robotaxi businesses here.”

Last November, Guangzhou-based Pony and Baidu became the first two mainland operators to be allowed to charge passengers using their autonomous taxis within a designated area covering 60 square kilometres in Beijing. In April, Pony received the green light to operate 100 driverless taxis in Guangzhou’s Nansha district.

Beijing-headquartered Baidu, which in 2017 launched Apollo, the world’s largest open-source autonomous driving ­platform, also operates driverless taxis on open roads in Wuhan and Chongqing.

Also on Tuesday, Pony and SAIC’s AI Lab, a unit focusing on driverless technologies, launched a concept vehicle based on the SAIC Marvel R model.

The car utilises 17 integrated automotive-grade sensors to create a 360-degree visual range covering 200 metres, eliminating blind spots around the vehicle, Pony said.

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