BEIJING – Chinese tech giant Baidu announced Thursday that it has cut the price of its robotaxi vehicles by nearly half, cutting costs for a nascent business.
The new vehicle, the Apollo RT6, is an electric car that costs 250,000 yuan (about $37,313) to produce, without relying on an outside manufacturer, Baidu said. That price is 48% less than the 480,000 yuan manufacturing cost announced last year for the Apollo Moon, made in partnership with state-owned BAIC Group’s electric car brand Arcfox.
The Apollo RT6 will start operating on China’s roads in the second half of next year under Baidu’s autonomous robotaxi business.
The company’s robotaxi business, called Apollo Go, received approval from the city of Beijing in November to begin charging fares for rides within a suburban district. However, a human staff member must still sit in the car.
In April, city authorities relaxed restrictions on whether the staff member had to sit in the driver’s seat, paving the way to eliminate the cost of a taxi driver altogether. It is unclear when the Chinese government will allow robot taxis to charge fares for rides without human staff in the vehicles.
The Apollo RT6 comes with a detachable steering wheel, as the car no longer necessarily needs one to drive.
General Motors and Ford have similar futuristic design plans for their autonomous car fleets.
Automakers have asked US regulators to allow them to remove the steering wheel or other features of a traditional car for their fleets, according to documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be officially released Thursday.
Baidu said the company aims to produce 100,000 Apollo RT6 vehicles over an unspecified period of time.
“This massive cost reduction will allow us to deploy tens of thousands of [autonomous driving vehicles] across China,” Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Baidu, said in a statement. “We are moving into a future where taking a robocab will be half the cost of taking a taxi today.”
Apollo Go operates in 10 cities in China, with plans to reach 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030, the company said.
In addition to Baidu, startups like Pony.ai and WeRide are testing robotaxi businesses in China.
To expand in China, companies must test robot taxis and obtain licenses in each city they want to operate in, Elinor Leung, managing director of Asia Telecom and Internet Research at CLSA, told CNBC earlier this week.
Until cities acknowledge each other’s testing records, robot taxi companies will need to raise more money to test more cars in different cities, she said.
- Chinese tech giant Baidu announced Thursday that its latest robotaxi vehicle comes with a detachable steering wheel, costing almost half of the previously announced model.
- The newly revealed Apollo RT6 costs 250,000 yuan (about $37,313) to produce.
- Baidu’s robotaxi business received approval from the city of Beijing in November to begin charging fees for rides within a suburban district.