The race to automate automobiles on China’s roads is heating up. Didi, the Uber of China, introduced this week an outsized funding of over $500 million in its freshly minted autonomous driving subsidiary. Placing the wager — the one largest fundraising spherical in China’s autonomous driving sector — is its current investor Softbank, the Japanese telecom large and startup benefactor that has additionally backed Uber.
The proceeds got here via Softbank’s second Vision Fund, which was reportedly lagging in fundraising as its Fund I recorded large losses partially because of the collapsing valuation of WeWork.
As China’s largest ride-hailing supplier with mountains of visitors knowledge, Didi clearly has an higher hand in growing robotaxis, which may assist tackle driver scarcity in the long run. But it was comparatively late to the sphere. In 2018, Didi ranked eighth in kilometers of autonomous driving assessments carried out in Beijing, far behind search large Baidu which accounted for over 90% of the full mileage that yr.
It’s since performed aggressive catchup. Last August, it spun off its then three-year-old autonomous driving unit into an unbiased firm to deal with R&D, constructing partnerships alongside the worth chain, and selling the futuristic expertise to the federal government. The group now has a workers of 200 throughout its China and U.S. workplaces.
As an business observer advised me, “robotaxis will develop into a actuality solely when you’ve gotten the required operational abilities, expertise and authorities help all in place.”
Didi is most well-known for its operational effectivity, as facilitating secure and nice rides between drivers and passengers is not any small feat. The firm’s management hails from Alibaba’s legendary business-to-business gross sales group, also referred to as the “Alibaba Iron Army” for its capacity in on-the-ground operation.
On the tech entrance, the subsidiary is headed by chief government Zhang Bo, a Baidu veteran, and chief expertise officer Wei Junqing, who joined final yr from self-driving software program firm Aptiv.
The autonomous phase also can profit from Didi’s all-encompassing attain within the mobility business. For occasion, it’s working to leverage the mum or dad firm’s good charging networks, fleet upkeep service and insurance coverage applications for autonomous fleets.
The recent capital will allow Didi’s autonomous enterprise to enhance security — an space that grew to become a focus of the corporate after two lethal accidents — and effectivity via conducting R&D and highway assessments. The financing may even permit it to deepen business cooperation and speed up the deployment of robotaxi providers in China and overseas.
Over the years, Didi has turned to conventional carmakers for synergies in what it dubs the “D-Alliance,” which counts greater than 31 companions. It has utilized autonomous driving expertise to automobiles from Lincoln, Nissan, Volvo, BYD, to call a couple of.
Didi has secured open-road testing licenses in three main cities in China in addition to California. It stated final August that it aimed to start selecting up ride-hailing passengers with autonomous vehicles in Shanghai in a couple of months’ time. It’s gathered 300,000 kilometers of highway assessments in China and the U.S. as of final August.