Ride-hailing Giant Didi to Explore Driverless Trucks

In addition to Robotaxi, autonomous driving trucks have now been added to ride-hailing giant Didi’s business roadmap. One car supplier is in talks with Didi about the deal, according to local media outlet Yicai on Friday.

A person close to Didi said that Didi’s driverless truck team was set up about a year and a half ago and is being led by CTO Wei Junqing. The team is mainly based in Beijing while Didi also has offices in Guangzhou and Shanghai.

Didi was an early player in China’s autonomous driving field. According to Didi’s official website, it set up an autonomous driving R&D department in 2016 and later upgraded it to an independent company in 2019. At present, Didi has obtained licenses for autonomous driving tests on open roads in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and California, USA.

Didi opened its autonomous driving tests to the public in Shanghai in 2020 and later, in 2021, Didi and GAC AION reached a strategic cooperation to promote the mass production of unmanned new energy vehicles. In addition, Didi cooperated with Volvo to build an autonomous driving test fleet. It is worth noting that the focus of Didi’s autonomous driving business lies in passenger cars.

However, according to the current development of the industry, autonomous driving vehicles in the commercial field show great promise and a shorter development cycle.

The CICC estimates that the potential market size of China’s high-speed logistics, driverless vehicles in mining areas, unmanned distribution, and unmanned ride-hailing vehicles will reach about 3.3 trillion yuan ($501 billion), 670 billion yuan, 170 billion yuan and 1.7 trillion yuan respectively.

According to the CICC, the economy of autonomous driving trucks is better than that of traditional fossil fuel-powered heavy trucks. The run time of unmanned truck will be increased while the costs for drivers and fuel will be significantly reduced. Overall, unmanned trucks can reduce operators’ costs by about 45%.

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In terms of actual application, at present, unmanned passenger cars have been mostly applied to urban roads while commercial unmanned vehicles have been applied to more realistic scenes. At present, there have been many start-ups focusing on self-driving trucks including TuSimple, Plus, Inceptio Technology. Companies that started with self-driving passenger cars, such as Pony.ai, WeRide, and DeepRoute.ai, have also begun to lay out in the field of unmanned trucks.