Here’s how China is taking the lead in autonomous driving
Not content with leading the world in electric mobility, China is also pioneering autonomous driving, or as they call it Intelligent Connected Vehicles (ICVs). By the end of the decade, 80% of new cars in China will have some autonomous features. Meanwhile, Shenzhen and Zibo are fighting to become China’s ICV capital.
China has made the development of ICVs one of the priorities of its pioneering automotive policy. Investment levels are high, and the plan is for highly autonomous vehicles to be widespread by 2035.
80% market share
According to some experts, cars with autonomy functions at level 2 and above will comprise at least 45% of the Chinese car market by 2025, and more than 80% by 2030, by which year IHS Markit estimates that the value of the ICV market will be about $195 billion, or 60% of China’s ride-hailing market.
An ICV uses connected technology to make the vehicle safer, cleaner, more comfortable, more efficient, and more cost-effective – in a word: smarter. The typical ICV is not just autonomous, but also electric.
The range of ideal use cases is still relatively small: usually, vehicles with a predictable route and a fixed downtime location. Examples include patrolling, delivery and cleaning vehicles, as well as fixed-line buses. At a recent conference in Shenyang, for example, Baidu presented its L4 – a minibus without steering wheel, reflecting the vehicle’s level-four autonomy.
ICVs require considerable investment in automotive infrastructure, which may be easier to accomplish in a centrally-planned economy like China’s than elsewhere. However, the rewards could be manifold. For one, by providing smarter mobility, ICVs could be a great help for China to achieve its CO2 emission reduction goals, as well as making traffic a lot safer.
For another, by providing investment opportunities for a wider range of companies. ICVs
require the input of increasingly complex hardware and software, they can help drive economic development of a more diverse range of industries that merely automotive manufacturing.
With all the buzz generated around ICVs, several automotive hubs are vying to become China’s ICV capital. One of them is Zibo, a city in China’s Shandong province. The regional government has brought together ICV players like Baidu Apollo, QCraft, Dongfeng Yuexiang, Golden Dragon and Suntae Auto, a local frontrunner in the ICV industry chain.
The aim is to establish a full-scenario ICV ecosystem along a 100-km stretch of road in a local mountain park, dubbed the Zibo National New & Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone (pictured).
Using technologies including 5G, Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) and Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X), the Zibo ICV Full-Scenario Ecosystem Project is testing capabilities like vehicle environment perception, intelligent decision-making, collaborative control, and information exchange between humans, vehicles, roads and the cloud.
ICVs tested since the start of 2022 include unmanned sightseeing vehicles, mobile shops, patrol vehicles, motor sweepers, and mobile toilets. Ultimately, the project wants to provide a range of services, including hailing unmanned shuttle buses, and smart shopping, dining and entertainment.
And then there’s Shenzhen, the industrial hub next to Hong Kong, which on 1 August introduced China’s first regulations for ICVs on the open road, including rules on market access, vehicle registration, accident disposal and legal liability.
Shenzhen defines ICVs as vehicles with autonomy levels 3, 4 or 5. Level-3 vehicles are allowed on high-speed roads, urban open roads and parking areas. Level-4 and -5 vehicles may be tested only on the city’s expressways and trunk roads.
In all, Shenzhen has opened 145 km of roads for ICV driving tests, for a total of 93 licenses. These include 23 for diverless tests with passengers. In early February, Baidu’s ride-hailing platform Apollo Go already trialled its robotaxi in Shenzhen.
Manufacturers have been developing driverless technology for years, and it now seems to be paying off at last. This January, Volvo revealed Ride Pilot, an autonomous driving feature, at the 2022 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Mercedes has had its level-3 technology certified by local authorities in Germany, and plans to launch it soon in the U.S. and China. Chinese manufacturer Chang’an has launched a level-4 autonomous driving platform project, which it expects to go into mass production by 2025, with an annual output of half a million smart vehicles.
Image: PR Newswire