Drivers hail future of self-driving technology

Updated: Feb 18, 2019 By Li Fusheng China Daily Print
A Level 4 autonomous driving vehicle, powered by Baidu's Apollo platform, is displayed in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Autonomous driving is most accepted in China, according to a survey by German technology company Continental.

The survey, which covered China, the United States, Germany and Japan, found that in 2018, a total of 89 percent of Chinese drivers considered autonomous driving a sensible development, up from 79 percent in 2013.

The figure was 68 percent in Japan, 52 percent in Germany and 50 percent in the United States.

Advanced driver assistance systems were popular in these countries as well. The survey found that around two-thirds of motorists in China would use a system that helps them to negotiate narrow road-construction zones.

"Trust in new technologies for the mobility of the future is of enormous importance," said Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart.

But he said new developments in autonomous driving must be introduced onto the roads in a responsible way because they have to be safe, robust and reliable.

"Our industry has to become even better at explaining that automated driving is being developed gradually and not in a revolutionary way."

China has the potential to become the world's largest market for autonomous vehicles, said consulting firm Mckinsey. It estimates that such vehicles will make up more than 40 percent of new vehicle sales in China by 2040.

Mckinsey said one of the reasons for this is government support, as shown by the establishment of multiple autonomous vehicle test zones, including Jiading in Shanghai and Xiong'an in Hebei province.

China expects at least 30 percent of new vehicles will feature Level 2 autonomous driving by 2020, according to an action plan by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in late December.

Level 2, in the six-level framework defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, refers to basic functions such as cruise control, lane centering and semi-automatic parking.

In the plan, China also expects large-scale use of highly autonomous driving vehicles in certain scenarios by the end of the decade. At least 60 percent of new vehicles will have onboard connectivity in the same period.

The venture capital community and major internet players are investing heavily in the technology as well.

Mckinsey statistics show that over the last five years, autonomous driving and component companies have received $7 billion in funding.

The three big internet companies, Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, have invested in the sector by participating in funding rounds and establishing partnerships.

So far, Baidu's Apollo system for self-driving cars is the most successful. It has attracted more than 100 partners from China and abroad.

China's Hongqi joined hands with Baidu in 2018. Powered by its Apollo system, Hongqi cars capable of Level 4 autonomous driving will be tested in cities including Beijing and Changchun, Jilin province, later this year.

They will be mass-produced by 2020 and Level 5 cars will hit the road in 2025, according to Hongqi.

Chinese carmaker Changan has a similar timetable. It announced in late 2018 that all its models produced from 2020 will have connectivity features and Level 4 autonomous driving will be available around 2025.

Volkswagen, the largest carmaker worldwide, became a member of the Apollo system late last year, to develop autonomous driving solutions in the Chinese market.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess said China has prospects of a technological rise in mobility unseen elsewhere. The Chinese government has a clear roadmap for its automotive industry and he stressed the importance of this.

He said his company's approach in the past of taking automotive technologies and standards from Europe into China must now change into co-developing them for the rest of the world.

Volkswagen's premium brand Audi is one of the first international carmakers to get licenses to test autonomous driving in China.

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