Autonomous driving tech company Pony.ai has received its taxi license in China. Backed by Toyota Motor Corp. the company can now deploy driverless vehicles and charge fares for the rides in China. The license was awarded to operate 100 driverless vehicles in the Guangzhou city district of Nansha.
The company said it was the first autonomous driving company in the country to do so. The startup said it was awarded the license to operate 100 driverless vehicles in the Guangzhou city district of Nansha. Pony.ai last year also won approval to launch paid driverless robotaxi services in Beijing and has since begun offering rides. In Beijing, however, rides are being offered in a much smaller, industrial zone on a trial basis, a Pony.ai spokesperson said.
According to the company’s statement, Nansha said 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. 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. This signals the Guangzhou government’s formal implementation of AD mobility services similar to traditional taxi and ride-hailing platforms. Today’s announcement reinforces Pony.ai’s progress toward commercial autonomy: with the robotaxi fee-charging permit received in Beijing in November 2021, Pony.ai is now the sole company approved for AD commercialization services in two Tier-1 cities in China. With successful commercialization in Beijing and Guangzhou, Pony.ai plans to expand its commercialized robotaxi footprint to the other two Tier-1 cities in China next year and to more cities by the start of Pony.ai’s mass commercialization planned for 2024/2025. Pony.ai currently has autonomous vehicle testing and operations in all four of China’s Tier-1 cities and in California.