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WeRide, which is developing autonomous driving capabilities, today announced the completion of Series B1 funding with a $200 million investment by Yutong Group Co. The companies said it is the largest-ever investment in self-driving technology by a Chinese automaker.
WeRide and Yutong Group said they will jointly develop applications in minibuses, city buses, and other commercial vehicles at scale. WeRide also claimed that it is the only autonomous driving company to have received strategic investments from leading makers of both commercial and passenger vehicles — Alliance Renault Nissan Mitsubishi.
Zhengzhou, China-based Yutong Group manufactures commercial vehicles including buses and construction machinery. Guangzhou, China-based WeRide is building SAE Level 4 autonomous driving technologies and said it is the first company in China and the second in the world to get official permission to test fully driverless cars on open roads.
WeRide already provides robotaxi services
WeRide was founded in 2017 and has research and development and operations centers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Anging, China, as well as in Silicon Valley. The multinational has used strategic alliances among artificial intelligence companies, carmakers, and mobility service platforms in its pursuit of commercialized autonomous driving.
The company used these alliances for its WeRide Robotaxi joint venture, which launched the first publicly accessible robotaxi service in Guangzhou in November 2019. It covered an area of 144 square kilometers (89.4 sq. mi.) in Huangpu District and Guangzhou Development District. In the service’s first year of operation, 60,000 users went on a total of 147,128 rides, according to WeRide.
In June 2020, WeRide’s Robotaxi service became available to the public through Amap, a popular ride-hailing mobile app in China. WeRide said this made its Robotaxi the first public service jointly provided by an integrated ride-hailing platform and an autonomous driving company. In July 2020, WeRide obtained China’s first driverless testing permit.
“Since our inception more than three years ago, WeRide has been a leader in autonomous driving,” stated Tony Han, co-founder and CEO of WeRide. “This new round of funding has provided a strong impetus for continuing our innovations, and more importantly, secured us another vital strategic investor.”
“Yutong Group’s strategic investment is a strong testament to WeRide’s robust technology and our constant efforts to expand industry boundaries,” he added. “We have extended the application of autonomous technology to passenger vehicles and buses.”
Yutong Group has autonomous driving experience
In 2015, Yutong Group reached a significant R&D milestone for its first generation of autonomous products. It conducted the world’s first open-road trial operation of robobuses in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China. The company presented its 5 m (15 ft.) autonomous minibus at the Boao Forum for Asia Conference in March 2019. In May 2019, it put the autonomous vehicle into open road-trial operation.
WeRide and Yutong previously collaborated on China’s first fully driverless Mini Robobus, created for open road operation in cities. It is a front-loaded, mass-produced model with no steering wheel, accelerator, or brakes. It is equipped with WeRide’s full stack of software and hardware. The Robobus is capable of dealing with complex urban traffic conditions safely and efficiently, said WeRide.
In its first attempt to realize the commercial application of autonomous buses in June 2020, Yutong assisted Zhengdong New District in Zhengzhou in introducing a 17.4 km (10.8 mi.) autonomous route. Yutong said its autonomous vehicles have been safely operated for more than 700 days in multiple cities, serving more than 360,000 passengers.
Chinese companies set sights on urban mobility
“WeRide and Yutong Group will engage in extensive cooperation in multiple key domains, such as R&D, vehicle platforms, and mobility services,” said Han. “We will draw on each other’s strengths to create a brand-new urban mobility and transportation system.”
WeRide added that the strategic investment will help Yutong Group advance its AI capability and expedite the process to commercialize autonomous driving technology in commercial vehicles for smart mobility and smart cities.
The company said commercialization of autonomous vehicles requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders in the industry. With the support of Yutong Group and other investors, WeRide said it plans to accelerate the deployment of its fully driverless robotaxi, Robobus, and other mobility systems.
Other companies working on robotic taxicabs and buses include AutoX, Cruise, Motional, and Waymo.