November 7, 2023
Toyota’s partnership with Pony.ai to mass-produce self-driving taxis for China has delivered its first vehicle.
In August, it was revealed that the Japanese automaker was extending its relationship with the autonomous driving company, via its Chinese joint venture GAC Toyota, to roll out the “large-scale deployment of fully driverless taxis.”
And now the first fruit of that deal has been unveiled, with a self-driving taxi concept based on GAC Toyota’s electric bZ4X presented at the China International Import Expo (CIIE) trade show in Shanghai.
Toyota, GAC Toyota and Pony.ai have collaborated on the design, platform and autonomous tech of the new vehicle and its unveiling has been hailed by the automaker as an “important step” in its efforts to drive forward the commercialization of fully autonomous driving.
Showgoers were greeted with a self-driving taxi sporting the familiar lines of the bZ4X fitted with Pony.ai’s seventh-generation Autonomous Driving Kit (ADK), which encompasses both hardware and software. Redundancy of the main control systems is also promised.
ADK incorporates an array of sensors including lidar, cameras and millimeter-wave radar, and the car also features several innovations designed to improve interactivity between the vehicle and its environment.
These include lighting on the roof and screens at the front and rear which display messages to alert pedestrians and other road users of the taxi’s intentions, such as “Pulling Over” and “Vehicle Turning.”
Toyota first partnered with Pony.ai in 2019 to promote research and development into autonomous vehicles for China and already has around 200 self-driving taxis based on the Sienna minivan and Lexus RX450h SUV operating in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Pony.ai, which has bases in California, Beijing and Guangzhou, has established itself as one of the leaders in driverless vehicle tech in China, with licenses to operate driverless vehicles in all four Tier One cities.
Mass production of the bZ4X, at GAC Toyota’s Chinese manufacturing facilities, would represent a significant escalation of the partnership.
Although there has been no confirmation yet of when we can expect to see a production version of the bZ4X on the road, the companies have previously said it will be deployed as part of Pony.ai’s self-driving taxi network, PonyPilot+, and press materials issued at CIIE hinted that it could also be offered to other self-driving taxi service providers.
Meanwhile, also on display at the CIIE was the Toyota Space smart cockpit, a vision of how car interiors might evolve. It showcases an array of screens, connected smart devices and personalized AI assistants to demonstrate what passengers can expect on future iterations of the firm’s vehicles.
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