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Guangzhou Gives China’s First Robotaxi Licence to Pony.ai

Toyota-backed tech firm gets a licence to operate 100 vehicles in Guangzhou’s Nansha district. Rival groups are also testing self-driving cars in Shenzhen, Changsha and California.

The logo of autonomous driving startup Pony.ai is seen on a screen during an event in Beijing, May 13, 2021. The group has won a licence to operate in part of Guangzhou city. File photo: Tingshu Wang, Reuters.


The race to create self-driving cars is heating up, with tech company Pony.ai announcing on Sunday it has obtained a taxi licence that will permit the group to start charging fares while running ‘driverless’ taxis in Guangzhou.

The company, which is backed by Toyota Motor Corp, said it was the first autonomous driving company in the country to get such a licence and that it would operate 100 driverless vehicles in Nansha, a large district in Guangzhou city.

Pony.ai also won approval last year to launch paid driverless robotaxi services in Beijing and has since begun offering rides.

However, the rides in Beijing are only being offered in a much smaller, industrial zone on a trial basis, a Pony.ai spokesperson said.

According to the company’s statement, in Nansha it will start charging fares in the entire 800 square km of the district with driverless cars. Passengers can hail and pay for rides with Pony.ai’s own app.


Drivers to be Used Initially

Pony.ai will initially deploy those cars with safety drivers but expects to remove them “over the short to intermediate time frame,” it said.

The announcement comes at a time when a host of startups are pouring billions of dollars into autonomous technology, aiming to take an early lead in the future of mobility.

Pony.ai has been active in the United States and China, testing its driverless technology on public roads in California’s Fremont and Milpitas, as well as the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Beijing.

In China, a host of local startups are competing. In recent months, Momenta and automaker SAIC gained official approval for a trial for their robotaxi service in Shanghai’s Jiading district, a move that followed a similar move in Guangzhou by Nissan-baked WeRide .

In Shenzhen, Alibaba-backed AutoX is also testing robotaxis — observed by safety drivers — in a highly congested urban area with lots of pedestrian and moped traffic.


• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard



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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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