Tesla received a nod for Robotaxi testing in China during Musk’s visit, report says

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During his recent visit to Beijing, Elon Musk proposed testing Tesla’s full self-driving (FSD) functions in the Chinese market by deploying them as “unnamed taxis.” WallstreetCN reports that Chinese officials offered partial support for this plan.

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While China welcomes Tesla to conduct robotaxi tests in the country, hoping it will “set a good example,” authorities have not immediately approved the widespread use of FSD functions, a report says.

Tesla Robotaxi renders from Chinese fans. Credit: SugarDesign

CarNewsChina reported on April 29 that according to sources familiar with the matter, Tesla and Baidu Apollo are holding exploratory talks regarding the robotaxi service launch in China.

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On April 20, it was reported that Baidu struck a deal with Tesla to expand the licensing of its mapping service for data collection. This sparked speculation about removing a key regulatory hurdle for the launch of the FSD in China; however, later, it was revealed that the agreement only improved the accuracy of Baidu’s map provided to Tesla, which is separate from Tesla’s FSD function.

Tesla and Baidu, also called China’s Google, are not strangers. The two giants began their partnership in early 2020, and Tesla has already integrated Baidu’s navigation map into its vehicles in China.

“Robotaxi will be an epoch-making revolutionary product, which will make Tesla’s market value reach 10 trillion USD.” Musk previously said. According to CLS, Tesla’s recent massive layoffs are due to the shift of expenditures to Robotaxi as Musk has “completely changed” the direction of Tesla’s progress.

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Tesla will release its Robotaxi on August 8. “I did partly pick it because 8/8 is a lucky number in China, Musk said on X.” According to Bank of America analyst John Murphy, the Robotaxi event on August 8 will showcase FSD and a new generation platform.

Before fully rolling out its Robotaxi service and FSD functions, Tesla needs approval to collect and transfer data necessary to train its driver-assistance features, an issue not extensively discussed during Musk’s visit.

Intelligent driving systems in China require a qualification to operate on public roads. Foreign companies must partner with domestic companies holding the license, a process not directly addressed in recent developments.

Robotaxis is nothing new in China. Baidu Apollo is Baidu’s self-driving project focusing on level 4 (L4) autonomous driving, which is the second highest. On February 26, Baidu received the permit to offer robotaxi service at Daixing Airport in Beijing. On March 8, the company launched China’s first 24/7 fully driverless robotaxi service in Wuhan.

With the approval granted by the head office of the Beijing High-Level Automated Driving Demonstration Area, Apollo Go can provide autonomous vehicles on the 40-kilometer expressway connecting Daxing International Airport and Beijing urban areas.

In addition to Beijing, Baidu’s fully autonomous driving robotaxis already operates in several cities nationwide, including Chongqing, Wuhan, and Shenzhen.

Baidu claims Apollo Go is the world’s largest autonomous driving mobility service provider. As of September 30, 2023, it had accumulated more than 4.1 million ride orders. In the Q3 of last year, Apollo Go provided 821,000 rides, marking a 73 percent surge compared with the previous year.

Baidu was also the first company in China to get a permit to test driverless buses on public roads. In 2022, it unveiled the Baidu RT6 Robotaxi fully autonomous concept car, which CarnewsChina had an exclusive first look at.

However, Baidu Apollo faces tough competition from other Chinese autonomous driving companies, such as WeRide, Pony.ai, and AutoX.

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