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News Mar 6, 2020 06:58 pm EqualOcean

Pony.ai ranks first in the mileage of self-driving taxi service vehicles in California

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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.

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Jul 12, 2020 02:38 pm · iyiou

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

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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. 

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Jul 5, 2020 07:43 pm · Suzhou Release

Momenta to Start RoboTaxi Trail Operation in Suzhou, China

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May 18, 2020 12:04 pm ·

Pony.ai Gets Go Ahead to Test Autonomous Driving in Beijing

► After the company launched China's first urban public Robotaxi services in Guangzhou in 2018, it can carry out manned tests in Beijing. ► In California, it obtained a dual license for self-driving road testing and taxi services. As planned, Pony.ai will carry out manned road tests on public roads in Haidian, Yizhuang and other districts in Beijing, which will be another important step in the development of productization and commercialization for the company and the autonomous driving industry.  Based on this, the firm hopes to provide Beijing with a safer, more convenient and smarter future travel solution, to help alleviate urban traffic jams, improve logistics efficiency and build a smart city.  At the end of 2019, Beijing issued the newly revised 'Beijing Autonomous Vehicles Road Test Management Implementation Rules (Trial),' becoming the third first-tier city to open manned testing for autonomous driving after Guangzhou and Shanghai. The 'Implementation Rules' divides the manned test into three phases, which stipulates that the minimum cumulative mileage of the main self-driving road test for the first phase of the test body is 100,000 kilometers.  By comparison, according to the 'Beijing Autonomous Vehicle Road Test Report (2019),' the five test vehicles of Pony.ai reached a mileage of 114,700 kilometers last year, which means that the company has met the requirements for applying for Beijing's self-driving manned test license. And the average mileage of bicycles was 22,940 kilometers per year, ranking first among all 13 testing companies in the city.  In addition, Pony.ai has obtained the first batch of intelligent network-connected car road test licenses in Guangzhou and double licenses for the self-driving road test and taxi services in California and has nearly 100 autonomous cars worldwide. Public road test mileage in urban areas has exceeded 2 million kilometers. According to the information published on the website, the company launched China's first urban public road autonomous driving taxi (Robotaxi) services in Guangzhou in 2018 and provided the first public-driving taxi services in California, USA in 2019. In Irvine, California, the United States and Hyundai Motors jointly launched the first fully open Robotaxi team in California in November 2019. In February of this year, Pony.ai cooperated with the Fremont, California government to launch the Robotaxi service for public officials. During the epidemic, Pony.ai and Yamibuy.com, the largest Asian goods shopping platform in North America, cooperated to provide automated, contactless 'last mile' freight transportation services for the citizens of Irvine, California to help Yamibuy fulfill the surge of orders during the period. Besides, AutoX planned to launch its robotaxi service in Shanghai in cooperation with Amap (aka AutoNavi) in April. Unlike other self-driving cars, that can only stop at fixed stations, AutoX's self-driving vehicles can pick up and drop off passengers at any location requested, providing great flexibility and convenience.  As the Internet of Vehicles (IoV) matures and the development of related technologies speeds up, the competition in the autonomous driving industry will become more and more intense.

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