Robotaxis Could Soon be Ordered Via an App
Pony.ai’s relentless push to commercialize robotaxi services has gained more momentum with confirmation of a new partnership with Chinese ride-hailing app, Ontime, owned by automaker GAC.
As part of the deal, the autonomous driving company will integrate its tech into 100 GAC vehicles which will then be available for ride hailing on Ontime. The fee-charging service is expected to launch in the city of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, later this year.
The news comes just days after Toyota-backed Pony.ai announced it was awarded a taxi license to operate a fleet of robotaxis in the Nansha area of the same city – the first self-driving company to be granted such a license in China. However, Pony.ai is keen to stress that the 100 robotaxis which will hit the road under the taxi license will run in parallel to the 100 GAC vehicles.
Ontime is firmly established as one of China’s leading ride-hailing providers, offering services in cities including Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen and Dongguan, while GAC is one of the country’s most significant car manufacturers. The Guangzhou-based company sold 442,363 cars in China in 2021, a rise of 28.4 % from 2020.
Both Pony.ai and Ontime believe the new service could hold the key to successfully persuading people to pay for self-driving cabs.
“For a robotaxi service to gain customer acceptance, it must be accessible through a ride-hailing platform,” said Jiang Hua, CEO of Ontime. “By providing a robotaxi commercial operating solution and robotaxi vehicle operating infrastructure, we believe this joint partnership can accelerate the sustainable commercial development of a robotaxi service.”
Ontime’s robotaxi platform – the first of its kind in China – is likely to prove merely a taster for what is to come.
“[It has] the potential to expand quickly throughout many other regions of China,” confirmed James Peng co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai. “This collaboration is a perfect example of Pony.ai’s approach to rapid mass commercialization with partners.”
Pony.ai isn’t restricting itself to using other companies’ software, however, and is also committed to developing its own ride-hailing app, PonyPilot+.
With the company now having received approval to run commercial robotaxi services in Guangzhou and Beijing – under a separate, special permit – it has set its sights on expanding to Shanghai and Shenzhen in 2023, with mass commercialization targeted for 2024/2025.
And Pony.ai isn’t solely focused on China. It has also been active in Fremont, California although it suffered a setback last year when it had its driverless testing permit suspended by the California Department of Motor Vehicles after one of its Hyundai Kona test cars was involved in a crash.