WeRide’s Robovan, an autonomous vehicle designed for urban logistics. WeRide has partnered with automaker Jiangling Motors and delivery company ZTO Express for the RoboWan project.
GUANGZHOU, China – Chinese autonomous driving start-up WeRide has partnered with a leading automaker and delivery company to launch an autonomous van.
The strategic partnership between WeRide, automaker Jiangling Motors (JMC) and delivery company ZTO Express aims to commercialize and mass-produce “Robovan” for urban logistics.
WeRide, supported by Nissan, manufactures autonomous driving systems for a variety of vehicles. Since 2019, it has been testing robotaxis, or autonomous taxis, in the streets of Guangzhou, China, where it is headquartered. The company opened the service to members of the public in limited areas of the city last year.
The company is also testing an autonomous bus that it calls Robobus. Testing of these vehicles helped develop RoboVan.
“We see that the border between a passenger vehicle and an urban logistics vehicle is disappearing,” WeRide CEO Tony Han told CNBC on Thursday. “It’s a self-driving vehicle. If you install a seat in it, it can work as a robotic taxi car. If you put a cabinet in it, it really is a logistics car.
“These two candidacies [robotaxi and logistics] One can share a technology and both can potentially generate a significant amount of revenue and profit. Why don’t we do both? Han said.
WeRide will supply the autonomous driving system for the RoboVan, JMC will handle manufacturing, while ZTO will deploy the vehicles for their logistics operations.
Han said the company will set up two or three locations to test the RoboVan and improve the performance of the vehicle. Once these pilot projects are completed, RoboWan can be deployed on a large scale. Han declined to provide a timeline for this, but said he expects “thousands” of vehicles to be deployed in the future.
WeRide is one of China’s autonomous driving start-ups, valued at around $ 3.3 billion. It competes with companies such as Baidu and Pony.ai. It is growing rapidly and earlier this year acquired a stand-alone trucking company called MoonX.AI. MoonX already had a relationship with ZTO Express prior to the acquisition.
Han said WeRide has been working on a research project with JMC since 2019 on logistics. When acquiring MoonX, WeRide was able to use ZTO Express as a partner.
WeRide’s business model will be to be involved in the final operations of ZTO’s logistics network using Robovans, rather than fully licensed its technology.
“By doing this, we can generate recurring revenue and get feedback to improve the product,” Han said.
lack of chip
The global semiconductor shortage affects all industries, including automakers.
WeRide’s autonomous driving systems rely on different chips given the number of sensors involved. Han said it could affect the company when it starts mass-producing the vehicles.
“Since we’re using sensor towers, all of these sensors and compute units, I think the lack of chips like this could affect our delivery and… our deployment plan,” Han said.
The chip shortage will not affect the existing project with JMC and ZTO, he added. But he said the company could see an impact if it were to manufacture 10,000 to 50,000 RoboVans.
“We need to do things in advance to protect our supply chain and our supply chain,” Han said.