The diplomatic partnership within WeRide, carmaker Jiangling Motors (JMC), and delivery company ZTO Express aim to market and mass-produce the “Robovan” for public logistics.
Nissan-backed WeRide makes autonomous driving systems for different vehicles. Since 2019, it has been experimenting with robotaxis, or autonomous cabs, on the streets of Guangzhou, China. The company started the service to members of the public last year in limited regions of the city.
The company has also been examining a self-driving bus which it calls the Robobus. The testing of these vehicles has improved the develop the Robovan.
On Thursday, Tony Han, CEO of WeRide, told CNBC that they find the border between a passenger vehicle and an urban logistics vehicle is fading. It’s an independent driving vehicle. If you install a seat there, it can work as a robotaxi car. If you place a cabinet there, it is a logistics car.
Those two applications [robotaxi and logistics] can distribute technology, potentially producing significant revenue and profit. Why don’t we do both? Han replied.
WeRide will fulfill the independent driving system for the Robovan, JMC will arrange to manufacture, while ZTO will extend the vehicles for their logistics operations.
No Precise Timeline
Han told the company would possibly fix up two or three locations to do Robovan tests and enhance the vehicle’s performance. Once the company creates those pilot projects, the Robovan can work on a considerable scale. Han refused to provide a timeline for this. However, he stated he foresees the deployment of tens of thousands of vehicles in the future.
WeRide is one of China’s independent driving start-ups, estimated at $3.3 billion. It competes with firms, including Baidu and Pony.ai. It has been increasing and earlier this year collected an independent trucking company named MoonX.AI. MoonX beforehand had a connection with ZTO Express before the acquisition.
Han spoke WeRide had been operating with JMC on a research project after 2019 on logistics. When MoonX was obtained, WeRide was directed to bring ZTO Express on as a companion.
WeRide’s company model will turn around it being included in the future operation of ZTO’s logistics system applying Robovans rather than individually licensing out its technology.