, BEIJING, China, Apr 23 – Chinese manufacturers and Internet giants are in hot pursuit of their US counterparts in the race to design driverless cars, but the route to market is still littered with potholes.
While Google has been working on autonomous vehicles for at least six years, with the likes of BMW, Volvo and Toyota in its wake, more recently Chinese businesses have entered the race, from Internet search giant Baidu to manufacturer Changan.
Last week, ahead of the Beijing Auto Show opening on Monday, two self-driving Changan cars made a mountainous 2,000 kilometre (1,200 mile) journey from Chongqing in the southwest to the capital in the country’s first long-distance autonomous vehicle test.
Another Chinese Internet giant, LeECO, is also venturing into autonomous technologies, unveiling Wednesday in Beijing an electric car that can park itself and be summoned to its owner’s location via smartphone.
And late last year Baidu tested China’s first locally designed driverless vehicle, a modified BMW, with a 30 kilometre ride through the streets of Beijing.
Despite China’s relatively late entry to the field, analysts believe the country could become a key market for driverless vehicles thanks to a more favourable regulatory and consumer environment.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) forecasts that global sales of driverless cars will reach 12 million by 2035, with more than a quarter sold in China.
Vehicles which automatically adjust their routes in response to real-time traffic information could solve chronic gridlock in China’s major cities, BCG’s Xavier Mosquet told AFP.
“If they believe this would ease traffic, Chinese authorities will do all they can to promote the development of this technology and then its use,” he said.