Subscribe

Briefing Jul 12, 2020 02:38 pm EqualOcean

Pony.ai's Fleet Enters Shanghai, Competing with AutoX

Briefing
Briefing · 1
News EO
News · 2
report
News EO
Aug 17, 2020 08:00 am ·

AutoX Opens Its RoboTaxi Service to the Public in Shanghai

AutoX , Inc. has announced that its RoboTaxi ride-hailing service in Shanghai is now open to the general public for the first time, marking a transit milestone for China’s largest city. AutoX RoboTaxis can be booked through Alibaba’s AutoNavi (also known as Amap, Gaode, or 高德) smartphone app, similar to other ride-hailing services. With the launch of its pilot RoboTaxi service to the public, AutoX has also struck up a strategic partnership with Letzgo, a subsidiary of Volkswagen Grouptaxi and a fleet operations company headquartered in Shanghai. This will allow AutoX RoboTaxis to be hailed through Letzgo’s smartphone app, on top of Alibaba’s AutoNavi app, once the service is fully rolled out on Letzgo in the coming weeks. Letzgo operates over 16,000 vehicles in more than 18 cities across China, including Shanghai. The taxi company’s staff will be trained to operate RoboTaxis at AutoX’s Shanghai OperationsCenter, which opened in April this year. The partnership marks a step forward for AutoX’s business model, through which AutoX will provide its ‘AutoX Driver’ platform and Letzgo will run daily fleet operations. Rides can be hailed in Shanghai’s Jiading District, following AutoX’s agreement with the city municipal authorities to allow a fleet of 100 vehicles to operate there. AutoX has taken special precautions to keep riders safe during COVID-19. Upon entering a RoboTaxi, customers only need to say the last four digits of their cellphone number to a voice recognition system within the vehicle in order to start their journey. During the trip, passengers can monitor their progress with an internal screen, where objects around the vehicle are also displayed so that they can understand how an autonomous vehicle perceives the world and makes decisions. Shanghai is just the first city where AutoX has launched its RoboTaxi services. AutoX is currently also testing autonomous vehicles in Shenzhen, Wuhan, Wuhu, as well as several other cities around the world. AutoX intends to launch its RoboTaxi service in these cities in the following months.

Analysis EO
Analysis · 2
report
Analysis EO
Aug 4, 2020 12:00 pm ·

AutoX: Eyes on the Stars, Feet on the Ground

► Founded in 2016, AutoX, the AV startup is determined to bring a universal L4 autonomous driving solution to all kinds of vehicles. ► Founded by Computer Vision expert Xiao Jianxiong, the company adopted a camera-only approach to realize L4 autonomous driving. It then moved to a sensor fusion approach that involves Lidars and radars to achieve better performance.  ► Its strong technology background earned recognition from authorities and investors, including Alibaba, SAIC and Dongfeng Motor.  It intends to retain its leading position by using a differentiated business model and will contribute to related regulations in China.  ► Autonomous driving is a burgeoning market that OEMs, startups, Internet giants are all putting efforts. M&As are heating as big names are ramping up to get right to the front of the queue. Those who are still struggling to prove their ability to commercialize will find the ecosystem dangerous in the coming years. Business overview Founded in 2016, AutoX is one of the earliest players in the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry to declare its determination to develop Level-4 (L4) autonomous driving solutions for all types of vehicles. As of now, the company has secured road testing licenses in five cities in both China and the US. It has also partnered with the Chinese mobility platform, Amap, to launch a Robotaxi trail operation in Shanghai, China. Meanwhile, the company has nabbed nearly USD 200 million from Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, top OEMs SAIC and Dongfeng Motor, among others. Safety is the first priority Founded by Prof. Xiao, who received his Ph.D. in CV from MIT and funded a Computer Vision and Robotics Laboratory at Princeton University, AutoX once tried to realize L4 autonomous driving with only cameras. For self-driving vehicles, the cost of Lidar takes up a great proportion of its total costs. Cameras, on the other hand, are much cheaper sensors, which, combined with artificial intelligence (AI), can also sense their surroundings. Driving a vision of democratizing autonomy, it explains that the company is trying to realize autonomy with a cheaper solution. Actually, AutoX is not the only camera loyalist out there. Tesla, too, eschewed, including any Lidar in its Autopilot solution. The company released a Full Self-Driving (FSD) chip in April 2019 with a hardware set that only includes cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors. While Tesla claims the FSD chip can achieve the same effect as Lidar, the debut of its L4 autonomous vehicle has been delayed again and again.  In fact, with safety as the essential prerequisite for automated driving, the vehicle should be able to have accurate perception under all conditions. Lidar can accurately measure the relative distance between the contour edges of objects with an accuracy down to the centimeter. The AV technology is far from mature and it would be clearly impractical to abandon Lidar now. To achieve a safer and faster deployment, AutoX also compromised by adding other sensors like Lidar and Radar to its solutions without diminishing the importance of the cameras – for they are still a vital part of helping the AV 'see' the surroundings in a way Lidar can't. But without the cost advantage the camera brings, what's next for AutoX in its quest to set itself apart? It's all about picking the right direction on this long, long road Prof. Xiao's answer is to let the professionals do the professional parts. AutoX positions itself as a technology platform focused on developing a set of L4 self-driving solutions for all kinds of vehicles. It will license its solution to OEMs, mobility operators and logistic companies rather than operate fleets.  The greatest merit for expanding laterally is that it helps the company focus on what really matters. In the whole industrial chain of the autonomous vehicle business, there's no easy element. With limited ability and energy, it's wiser to stick to one core part that can benefit more industrial parts. Plus, implementing the solution in as many vehicles as possible will also help it cope better with different road conditions, which will improve the technology in the future. Another strength AutoX means to keep is its first-mover advantage. Founded in 2016, AutoX was one of the earliest players in the AV industry. According to Prof. Xiao, the company's autonomous vehicle is technically ready now – but not in many other ways.  For a start, the policy is one of the greatest obstacles. On the one hand, China has strict regulations on the areas allowing AVs to test run. That significantly limited the vehicles' chance to learn a more complex road condition. As a matter of fact, among all the cities in China, only Shenzhen allows AVs to test in the CBD area. Another thing is there are still many blanks on the regulation book about Robotaxi operations, such as on accident liability and traffic laws. The immature regulation is stopping AV companies from moving to the next step. It's worse for early players because, without moving forward, the laggards may catch up soon. "That's why we have to do our pilot operation, even though it doesn't help much and costs a lot," explained Prof. Xiao. It's both fortunate and unfortunate as a Chinese AV startup In the US, Google started its autonomous driving project in 2009, Cruise in 2013, Ford in 2013; In China, however, Baidu started in 2015, DiDi in 2016 – generally, the US giant companies entered the business much earlier than Chinese ones. This makes China's overall AV technology and regulation lag behind that of the US.  According to the 2019 Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Chinese AV companies take up three of the top five names whose vehicles need the least manual disengagement. But this result is predicated on the fact that the total test miles of the Chinese AV companies are much lower than the total for  US companies. It's hard to find out if the ranking would still be so high if the Chinese AV companies included their road test results. However, on the other hand, it allows Chinese startups to start at the same point as the giants and to develop AV technology with greater focus. Besides, China has the largest market share in both mobility and freight industries, where AVs can make a significant impact. According to a simulation done by UBS Evidence Labs on a Robotaxi fleet in New York, the global Robotaxi market size could exceed USD 2 trillion by 2030, while the Chinese market for Robotaxi is estimated to exceed USD 50 billion by 2023. Nevertheless, faced with such a luring prospect, how long before Chinese giants genuinely wake up? In our opinion, very soon. As we analyzed before, pure-tech companies in the area have technology solutions but are struggling to step into the growth/mature stage. Plus, as massive – in terms of scope, size or capacity – L4 AV deployments are at least four to six years ahead, a ticket to rise on the Internet giants' boat is not a bad exit. For AutoX, backed by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba and top OEMs SAIC and Dongfeng Motor, it can also be considered as an additional option. Chinese companies have advantages over global peers in terms of government support, their knowledge and understanding of customers and partnerships both upstream and downstream. Small-scale robotaxi services remain a key progress milestone for them but the future mass-produced services are looking uncertain at the current stage.  A reliable and proprietary technology is always the best bargaining chip – but finding viable additional business opportunities is harder.  

News EO
News · 2
report
News EO
Jul 21, 2020 06:51 pm ·

Can Tesla Beat Didi and Xpeng?

►When technology has shown proven progress people will have more openness to the idea of taking a ride with a robotaxi. ►The future of autonomous driving is still unknown but is sure to lead to plenty of exciting milestones ahead. On July 15th, EqualOcean and the Shanghai-based accelerator XNode held a live webinar on the topic of the auto industry. We invited corporate innovation expert, Bob Wang from XNode, and Joe Sun, who is the founder of XID Lab and a former Chief Experience Designer at Didi. Key takeaways: We see the launch of commercial ride-hailing service as a key step toward building a long-term disruptive business. Companies such as Waymo, Pony.ai, AutoX and DiDi, among other pioneers focusing on Robotaxi, have reached some milestones in 2020. What are the reasons they chose to enter the market? What are the advantages and challenges? When asked this question, Joe summarized three kinds of group players who are interested in robotaxis: technology companies, leading carmakers and autonomous driving companies. According to Joe, the robotaxi is coming, sooner or later, and all the players have foreseen great commercial value and social impact from the robotaxi businesses. Consumers will benefit from this as robotaxis become more accessible and efficient. When that day comes, a big part of today’s mobility demand will be fulfilled by robotaxi. It will be the future form of the ride-hailing we see now. Bob’s answer offered outlined another way of thinking. He mentioned that one of Roland Berger’s recent reports showcased two key drivers in the current mobility market, namely technology progress, and consumer willingness. Technology progress – this concerns the question of the right timing to start testing the robotaxi business and challenges being another crucial deciding factor. The willingness of consumers – at the same time, mass consumers are generally not familiar with the concept of autonomous driving; but when technology has shown proven progress people will have more openness to the idea of taking a ride with a robotaxi. How are autonomous driving companies building out their businesses and what are the ways they can monetize? Bob talked to us regarding two scenarios in this area: one is a ‘determinative’ scenario, the other is an ‘open road’ scenario. An example of a determinative scenario is that, for autonomous driving companies, questions of logistics for transportation or parking started much earlier compared to other functions. Some players in the industry have already found a way to attain monetization here. On the other hand, an open road scenario needs testing and ample feedback from the market. One example being Didi, which recently started offering robotaxi in Shanghai but did not open it to the general public. Overall, it still a bit early to comment on this topic. Joe presented us with a vivid picture of a possible interaction in the current taxi-taking scenario. It mimics the experience of taking a robotaxi if no one were to talk to the driver during a taxi ride. In the cost structure of taxi-taking, a big part of the fee goes to the taxi driver. If and when autonomous driving replaces the driver, that will mean the cost of autonomous driving will be significantly lower. Removing the cost of the driver (as uncomfortable as it may first seem) makes for a good deal. Tesla Model 3, the killer product, has outstanding pricing and better performance compared to some leading ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) cars, not to mention its autopilot and Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) features. Chinese EV markers like NIO and Xpeng are following suit, hoping to change how we think about cars. How do you see EV makers' efforts in autonomous driving? And why do you think many manufacturers are at L2-L3, and many tech/Internet companies are at L4-L5? Joe offered his previous experience working at Xpeng as an example. He Xiaopeng, founder of Xpeng (and UC Web), who Joe refers to as “a typical product manager from a big Internet company,” believes that technology can change the whole industry. According to Joe, ‘EV (electric vehicle) companies have a natural advantage in the autonomous driving application. Most important is many EV companies are new; they don’t have the historical burden. Some of these new tech companies, like Tesla, have strong DNA in technology development, which is more important than the technical proficiency per se. Under this logical rubric, the traditional car companies move at a slower pace. However, efficiency is often the key. Bob gave us an example concerning Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC)’s blueprint in 2017, to make mass production of L3 cars around 2019, with the plan that car manufacturers would be in L2-L3, and tech/Internet companies mostly in L4-L5 around 2021.  However, just one year after, in 2018, they changed gears. They are currently focusing on L2 and L2.5, and aim to achieve mass production of L3 in 2022. It offers real-life scenarios from traditional carmakers and industry. Furthermore, Bob suggested the reason behind technology companies’ current stages being L3-L5. Generally speaking, L3 and L4 attract more VCs to startups from an investment point of view.  Joe provided another point – which is that typical technology companies like Tesla and Waymo are much more attractive to the talents in the field. For example, Audi A8 and Tesla Model 3 both are under L3, model 3 is however seems smarter. Although tech companies are often ambitious – and sometimes too ambitious – the core values involved, and the autonomous driving team, etc. can drive them forward. Special question for Joe: Can you introduce Didi’s autonomous driving strategy and practices a little more? What will this concept/business mean to Didi as a whole, regarding its valuation? Joe’s extensive experiences at Didi offered a different outlook. Didi was low-profile regarding autonomous driving – until the recent news of its autonomous driving subsidiary emerged. Considering its platform and its drivers, it is still a sensitive issue all around. For the autonomous driving part, Didi is still in the stage of early commercialization. However, it is not far behind its counterparts. Due to Didi having the biggest data of mobility services in kilometers and in hours globally, Didi’s autonomous driving team will rise to the very top when the technology is ready for commercialization. Moreover, the data belongs to Didi instead of its autonomous driving team. In all possible scenarios, if the subsidiary does not perform well – as Didi is considering shaping the subsidiary as one separate company – Didi would have to spend more money. It would have to invest in the subsidiary to support it or buy another autonomous driving company to ensure success. Hence, the market will need considerable time to see the real value of the company. China's vibrant tech circles spawned dozens of billion-dollar enterprises in the past few years – and unavoidable failures. Companies like Drive.ai and roadstar.ai failed to deliver what they dreamed of. How do you see the challenges ahead, especially in the auto industry, and what's your advice to young startups? On this topic, Joe and Bob offered us some carefully considered wisdom. From Joe, we learned that not every autonomous driving company is created equal. In other words, not every company in this sector is needed. Young startups should be thinking from the commercial point of view and making friends with industry players that can help with commercialization. Bob suggested that everyone (all companies) in the ecosystem are in it together, for the time being, confronting the challenges out there. Insights from XNode’s close partner, NIO Capital, hold that “robotaxi and mobility services will be booming, and traditional OEM will keep losing profits.” In one way or another, huge opportunities for tech startups, and new players gather around three ways of being ready: stay focused, don’t directly compete with a giant, and get support from governmental organizations. Special question for Bob: In connection with autonomous driving startups and PE/VC markets, what changes have you have been witnessing in the last few years? What would you expect from the rest of 2020 and the following years? According to Bob, despite autonomous driving has become a hot topic among car companies, investors, and governmental organizations, there is currently a decreasing trend in fundraising based on a few reports. Some autonomous driving’s subdomains, such as AI chips and algorithm creation, are gaining more investments compared to the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). Nevertheless, the future is still unknown. With people’s needs around traveling and exploring likely to remain constant, the topic of autonomous driving will stay vibrant. The two auto experts in this WIM webinar relayed ample knowledge and perspectives on the central topic. Yet, as both Bob and Joe mentioned, it is still too early to say anything concrete. The future of autonomous driving is still unknown but is sure to lead to plenty of exciting milestones ahead.

Analysis EO
Analysis · 2
report
Analysis EO
Jul 10, 2020 11:39 am ·

Time for BAT and TMD to Hit the Driverless Car Road

► The large addressable market and potential revenue synergy is luring BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) and TMD (Toutiao, Meituan Dianping and DiDi) to join the driverless car game. DiDi's in-house Autonomous Vehicle (AV)  in Shanghai is accelerating the adoption curve and also heating up the game, making the rest of the names and startups at times breathless.  ► Pure-tech companies in the area have technology solutions but are struggling to step into the growth/mature stage – and with the unviable business model are exposed.  ► The funding market has been cooling down for a while, with some unicorns suffering without new support. Investors are asking for more – and autonomous driving startups suffered most.  ► As massive – in terms of scope, size or capacity – Level-4 AV deployments are at least four to six years ahead, a ticket to the Internet giants' boat is not a bad exit.  2020 was an eventful year that saw increased AV adoption across some tier-1 cities  China saw several Level-4 major deals closed in the first half of this year – DiDi AV spinoff (USD 500 million), Pony.ai (USD 462 million, Series B), Inceptio.ai (USD 100 million).  The descending enthusiasm of investors could have resulted from the repeatedly postponed commercialization timeline of AV technology. Both giant companies like Google's Waymo and ambitious startups as Momenta once claimed that they would materialize mass production of Level-4 autonomous driving vehicles by 2020. Yet, no single company has realized the goal, due to immature technology, stubbornly high costs and inadequate regulations.  While the investors are getting more discreet on their bets, their expectations remain high. Though the number of deals lessened in the past two years, the volume of money raised in each deal is getting higher. At the beginning of this year, Chinese AV startup Pony.ai secured USD 500 million from Toyota, yet another industrial investor following Kunlun (300418:SZ) – a gaming company. The injection will sustain the firm's research on L4 in the coming years but might harm the company's independence, in our view.  L4 tech solutions providers need to reconsider their role – RoboTaxi operator, self-driving car maker or tech providers. Choosing the latter means they only earn licensing fees.  It might be hard for driverless technology alone to take a majority portion of ride-hailing trips while the rest relies on customer service, as Waymo executive John Krafcik implied. Leading companies have been operating their driverless fleet in China on a small scale. For instance, WeRide reported a total of 8,396 orders of its RoboTaxi service to Guangzhou citizens, in December 2019. However, point-to-point operations in some urban areas are still the initial stage of commercialization.  Like Waymo, Chinese VC Blue Run Capital expressed a similar opinion. OEMs, software integrators and channels surrounding the core OEMs are their priority for opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI). OEMs integrate upstream, downstream and third-party resources efficiently. In the direction of AV, those who focus on parts of the value chain can fonds the course hard, as one closes the loop of demand and supply, creating less value. The company has invested in Lixiang four times, the next being – maybe – China EV stocks after NIO (NIO:NYSE).  Who's the next in Internet giants' shopping bags? Internet/industrial conglomerates have an endless appetite for cutting-edge technologies due to the fear of missing out (FOMO). Their deep pockets support the money needed for acquiring the share of a business when they feel there can be a possible revenue synergy going on.  In the auto industry, whose history is almost a history of M&As, we saw many mega-deals happen in the past five years. Chipmakers and tier-1 suppliers – sensitive to the shifts of world science and technology – are engaging in the game. Intel's USD 15.3 billion acquisition of Mobileye and Delphi's several deals is a clear sign. Pure-tech companies that have technologies but are struggling to step into the growth/mature stage and find the unviable business model are being exposed. A leaf in the storm  We view DiDi's driverless service launch in Shanghai as a significant milestone for the auto industry and, at the same time, a considerable challenge to startups in the same vein. DiDi's peers – not smaller ones in the ride-hailing niche but tech giants – will react accordingly, as the cost of missing new chances may be infinite, just as Baidu missed the opportunity of mobile apps and content recommendation in the 4G era.  The large addressable market and potential revenue synergy is luring BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) and TMD (Toutiao, Meituan Dianping and DiDi) to join the driverless car game. Meituan, for instance, has been developing and investing in last-mile delivery AVs to better support its food delivery segment. Its new bet on Lixiang shows its ambitions in networked mobility as well.  The greatest strength for Internet giants to rule the AV business is the solid user foundation created by their primary business. ByteDance (BD), for instance – the Daily Average User (DAU) of its hottest app, Douyin (China’s counterpart to TikTok), reached 400 million as of January, the number having hit 900 million during China's lockdown. The advantage that BD has on traffic entry and its intelligent recommendation systems is paving the way to the Internet of Vehicles (IoV). It will take full advantage of in-car times of drivers and passengers by providing short-video content and expects to commercialize from advertising.  Alibaba has made a presence on the upper stream, investing/building ventures of HD map (AutoNavi) and IoV/V2X (Banma Network). E-commerce giants like Alibaba and JD.com all research on autonomous long-haul freight where L4 Autonomous Truck companies like TuSimple Inceptio and Plus.ai leads the game.  The bottom line As DiDi shows a clear mission to envisage itself as operating fleets of autonomous robotaxis in the next ten years, BAT and TM need to consider engaging more in the game. The need to understand who develops owns and operates the driverless robotaxis or trucks and the surrounding systems, and further, how their advance computing capabilities will help or hinder their entry into the market with their more-than-ten-billion customers, is crucial. They can provide the whole autonomous network with the required infrastructure and best customer experience and move the needle for the autonomous driving industry. 

Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Jul 5, 2020 07:43 pm · Suzhou Release

Momenta to Start RoboTaxi Trail Operation in Suzhou, China

Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Updated 11 hours ago · Jiemian.com

DiDi to Increase 100,000 Shared Bike in Beijing

Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Sep 28, 2020 10:11 am ·

GAC Trumpchi M8 Debuts at Beijing Auto Show

Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Sep 26, 2020 09:30 am ·

Li Auto’s New Car Plan Leaked

Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Briefing · 1
Briefing
Sep 25, 2020 09:30 am ·

SAIC Volkswagen to Build MEB NEV Plant

Read more