October 17, 2023
DiDi, once considered the Uber of China, has announced major new funding for its Autonomous Driving arm.
The investment, worth up to $149 million, will be made by state-owned automaker, the Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC Group) via its wholly-owned subsidiary GAC Capital Co. and also the Guangzhou Development District Investment Group Co.
The source of the funding – two entities with close links to the municipal government of Guangzhou – is significant. It suggests that DiDi may be able to accelerate its rollout of self-driving taxis in China’s fifth most populous city, which is located northwest of Hong Kong and has nearly 16 million residents.
The company is currently operating there on a limited basis, but with backing from the local authorities, it would be no surprise to see DiDi dramatically expand operations.
A statement on the company website spelled out how the new funding will be used. It read: “DiDi Autonomous Driving will continue to invest deeply in research and development, accelerate the implementation of related products, pursue open collaborations in the industry chain, build a sustainable and open industry ecosystem, and expedite the widespread commercial use of autonomous driving technology.”
DiDi got off to a fast start in China’s self-driving race, announcing a massive investment of $500 million in 2020, with most of the funding coming from Japan’s SoftBank.
But progress stalled as the ride-hailing giant became a focus for China’s cybersecurity government agency, amid concerns that its app was illegally acquiring data from hundreds of millions of users. The app was subsequently pulled from online stores in the country.
The government probe concluded in mid-2022, and DiDi was hit with a massive $1.2 billion fine. Now the company’s Autonomous Driving division is clearly trying to regain some of the ground it has lost to the likes of Pony.ai, WeRide and in particular, Baidu, which has been realizing its plan to establish the world’s largest fully driverless ride-hailing service area in 2023 via its Apollo Go platform.
Earlier this year, DiDi Autonomous Driving unveiled a purpose-built self-driving taxi called the Neuron which it hopes to have in mass production by 2025.
It has also confirmed a joint venture with GAC electric car brand AION to co-develop another, more conventional self-driving taxi, which will complement existing partnerships with the likes of Nissan and Volvo.
Currently, the division operates taxis in certain areas of Guangzhou, plus Shanghai, where both autonomous vehicles and human-driven ones are used.
Hailing the new funding, Zhang Bo, CEO of DiDI Autonomous Driving, said: “The strong support from GAC Group will help us accelerate the construction of an open, sustainable, and mixed dispatching network for shared mobility, providing users with safe, convenient, and cost-effective autonomous driving services.”
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