Guangzhou-based WeRide, an autonomous driving startup known for its robotaxi and robobus pilot programs in China, said on Tuesday that it has received a strategic investment from major automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group, or GAC Group.
WeRide did not disclose the amount of investment, but said the two companies plan to build a robotaxi fleet numbering in the tens of thousands in the coming years.
The deal highlights autonomous driving as a new frontier in consumer mobility services in China, with startups working in tandem with conventional automakers to develop new innovations that can be applied at a large scale.
Autonomous ride-hailing is a new vertical, and robotaxis still come with safety drivers who override self-driving functions during critical moments that require human judgement. In anticipation of robotaxis operating on public roads, the Chinese government has been defining rules for operators and granting licenses to companies with viable service offerings.
The broader autonomous ride-hailing market is set for fast growth. Notably, WeRide faces fierce competition from Deeproute, Pony.ai, AutoX, as well as giants like Baidu. In its latest partnership, WeRide will provide full-stack self-driving systems, while GAC will manufacture the cars.
WeRide is backed by automaker Nissan and valued at over USD 3 billion. It has been pursuing what is known in the auto industry as the L4 autonomous standard, in which the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving while a human driver does not need to intervene under most conditions, but can still override the automation system.
WeRide was China’s first self-driving startup to conduct robotaxi service trials. The company has been testing its autonomous taxi service since 2019 in Guangzhou. Its fleet consists of more than 100 vehicles. Altogether, these cars have covered roughly 2.7 million km during open road tests.
Last month, WeRide partnered with GAC Group to launch driverless taxis on ride-hailing platform Ontime. The app is GAC’s mobility service platform. Ontime offered rides on new robotaxis during the Guangzhou Auto Show in November.