Self-driving robotaxis are taking off in China. It’s happening thanks to new regulations, but a key question remains: Does it work?
A number of companies are planning to build self-driving robotaxis within five years, but so far there is no evidence that they are on the road.
“We have not verified if the robot axis cars are in service,” said a spokesman from China’s Ministry of Industry & Information Technology when we asked about self-driving robotaxis.
The ministry did not provide any information on the status of robotaxis, which have been in the works for a decade, but the spokesman suggested that the government may find out about the vehicles’ progress after the 2019 Beijing motor show.
But in the meantime, there are three reasons to believe that self-driving robotaxi are here to stay.
First, China is one of the world’s top investors in the technology: In 2018, it was second only to the US in the amount of venture capital raised for self-driving vehicles, with $2.5bn. The US was, by far, the biggest investor by far.
The second reason is that China’s government is actively investing in the technology. It has issued two regulatory approvals: for driverless taxis in Chongqing in 2016 and for a pilot project in Shanghai in 2017. The ministry is now considering similar approval for a self-driving robotaxis program in Chengdu in the next few months.
The third reason is that China is now one of the world’s largest domestic markets for self-driving vehicles: In 2018, China’s automobile manufacturing sector was the world’s second largest after Japan, with 26 per cent of global production. Automotive manufacturing in China and in the US is roughly equal, around 30 per cent.
And the fourth reason is that the Chinese government seems committed to improving public safety: According to state media outlets such as Global Times, the government has made clear commitments to speed up the deployment of autonomous vehicles.
“China is committed to the development of self-driving vehicles,” wrote a government spokesman in the Global Times. “We believe that the deployment of