Baidu, the Chinese search engine giant, aims to build a robotaxi fleet of 3,000 vehicles in two years, with total users expected to reach 3 million in 30 cities by 2023.
Details: The goal was unveiled on Thursday when Baidu launched a driverless vehicle with BAIC Group's Arcfox brand in Beijing.
The model, called Apollo Moon, sells for less than 500,000 yuan ($77,900), which is about one-third of the average price of a Level 4 autonomous car.
Arcfox will produce 1,000 units of Apollo Moon within three years, as part of its efforts to promote Baidu's robotaxi service. The model has a projected operating cycle of over five years.
The partnership with the Beijing-headquartered automaker is an attempt to commercialize autonomous taxis on a mass scale.
Baidu rolled out its autonomous driving project Apollo in 2017. It has since obtained 244 test permits and finished tests of 12 million kilometers.
Context: Baidu has been testing robotaxis in a number of major cities across China including Shanghai. In Beijing, Baidu has started charging passengers for rides in its driverless cars around Shougang Park, one of the sites for the Winter Olympics in 2022.
The self-driving sector is on the rise in China with an increasing number of players jumping in, and Baidu is also facing challenges from upstarts such as WeRide and Pony.ai.
Baidu has been aggressively expanding partnerships with established automakers. Earlier this year, it set up a standalone electric car company in partnership with Chinese carmaker Geely.