William Li, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Chinese electric vehicle maker Nio Inc, unveils Nio's ET7 sedan at a product launch event in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, January 9, 2021. REUTERS/Yilei Sun

An advantage of the autonomous driving software business DeepRoute.ai is its capacity to do away with “high-definition maps.” This enables the deployment of driver-assist technology by a vehicle on roads without such technological limitations. Along with Tesla’s plan to advance autonomous driving, automakers like Xpeng and Huawei are following this trend. Instead of heavily relying on HD maps, Elon Musk’s business has concentrated on employing cameras and artificial intelligence to navigate the car. While these maps, utilized by businesses that specialize in autonomous driving like Alphabet’s Waymo, provide a vehicle a thorough understanding of city streets, they must be produced before a car can be used on the road, which may increase expenses.

Chinese automakers want to bring assisted driving to the massesChinese automakers want to bring assisted driving to the massesMaxwell Zhou, the CEO of DeepRoute, estimates that each automobile used for data collection would cost $100,000 up front and an extra $30,000 annually in operating expenses, for a total of around $2 billion or $3 billion, excluding the cost of human labor. Zhou is aware that, for a startup, following Tesla’s lead is the only way to conceivably achieve autonomous driving. He points out that it would be challenging to continuously provide automobiles with precise enough maps since China continually improving its roads. “Car companies and trade publications, not consumers, currently dominate the discussion in China,” he continues.

It is still uncertain if Chinese customers care sufficiently about driver-assist technology given that the majority of them haven’t utilized it yet, despite overall rise in new energy vehicle sales. This year, the market has prioritized price reductions to attract customers. Deliveries at Xpeng, one of the technologically most advanced companies, fell in the first quarter in anticipation of a wider deployment of its assisted driving technology. BYD, a major company, has minimized self-driving technology. According to William Li, CEO of Nio, driver-assist technology is not a high priority for consumers. But once they use it, he said, people tend to get dependent on it, which will promote a pretty quick adoption.


However, the few vehicles with sophisticated driver-assist technology that can run on city streets are more costly, according to Zhang Xin, executive editor-in-chief of AutoR, a trade journal with more than 110,000 followers on the Weibo social media network, which is similar to Twitter. Customers who merely get the most cutting-edge equipment could realize they don’t use it, he warned. Zhang stated that current map-free driver assistance technology is not sufficiently enough to totally replace maps.

China's Self-Driving Car Industry: An Introduction for Foreign InvestorsLower prices are a factor in the broader interest of automakers in driver-assist technology. The light detection and ranging (LiDAR) devices often utilized for driver-assist systems are produced by Shanghai-based Hesai. According to CEO David Li, such modules used to cost close to $10,000, making it “virtually impossible to be used in mass-produced cars.” Costs have decreased to around $500 per unit, however, as demand for electric and driverless vehicles rises.


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