The future of autonomous cars in China

by Nicole on May 12, 2017

China is keen to deploy autonomous cars for the same reason as everyone else: Autonomous cars will significantly improve traffic and environmental conditions. Widespread adoption of self-driving cars could reduce vehicles on city streets by 60%, vehicle emissions by 80% and traffic accidents by 90%.

When looking at autonomous cars in China, it’s easy to point out the shortcomings. Foreign car makers have spent 30 years developing advanced driver assistance technologies, while China is basically just getting started.


This doesn’t mean China isn’t sitting at the table. Beijing has made the adoption of self-driving cars a national priority, and the country’s top-down control capabilities can give them an advantage in this race. China has just achieved great success rolling out the high-speed rail through top-down initiatives.

Right now, the West has superior technology when it comes to the technology in the cars. However, all the major OEMs like Audi have R&D centers in China to take advantage of the more progressive regulations, like the autonomous drive zones (which we’ll get into a bit later).

During Global Sources Startup Launchpad, a buyer focused conference in Hong Kong that shows off the region’s hottest hardware startups while tackling hot topics.  During an afternoon series on the Future of Automotive, the managing director of Audi Hong Kong, Rene Koneberg, gave a good rundown of what the different levels of autonomous are and where he sees Audi’s role in the future. We’ve got a link to the YouTube video here.

One of the more interesting points made during the presentation, titled The Future of Autonomous Vehicles, was that 95% of people in China want an autonomous car, while in the US and Europe only half the surveyed people were interested. It’s a country eager to accept the future of automotive.

Koeneberg also tackled the question: Who will take responsibility for an accident?

Audi is launching a Level 3 Autonomous Car, the A8, in mid-July and if there is an accident when the Autonomous drive is engaged,d Audi will be responsible. When the car is responsible for driving, the OEM, in this case, Audi, will be responsible. If you are interested in listening to that part of his presentation if you are keen to watch the part of the presentation where he tackles this question, head on over to the video here.

What steps is China taking with the Autonomous car?

When looking at the future of autonomous cars there are many very forward-thinking initiatives in China.

The city of Wuhu is slated to become a totally driverless city by 2025. Located 200km west of Shanghai, Wuhu has partnered with Baidu, the Google of China, because of Apollo, a collaborative ecosystem for the autonomous car.

Shanghai has an intelligent vehicle pilot zone, which by 2020 will have grown to 100 square kilometers and currently is home to around 30 simulated drive environments.

Zhangzhou in Fujian province is planning on building a 56 square km zone in the cities and technological development area to enable testing of autonomous cars in a city lab setting. There will also be 600,000 square meters of closed testing and a two million square meter open experimentation field. This would be the world’s largest experimental zone for autonomous driving.

China Looks to Centralize Rule Making

Multinational car-makers, that have largely developed industry standards among themselves in the vacuum of universal regulations, now have a harmonized playbook to tackle the self-driving car market in China.

The Society of Automotive Engineers of China (SAEC) laid out a roadmap to 2030.Tthe aim was to create a clear framework to foster conditions that would rapidly move China towards producing and selling self-driving cars.

The report, thankfully, stops short of backing a single technology infrastructure and standard for vehicles to communicate with each other but it does include a timeline for when the standard should be identified.

This unified approach to a burgeoning technology gives China an advantage that could allow them to leapfrog their Western competitors. The result would be a much quicker roll out of self-driving cars.

What will Autonomous Car adoption look like in China?

China has more to gain than Western countries from the adoption of autonomous cars. In the west, marketers try to get people interested in autonomous cars by giving people back time or increasing productivity. Whereas in China the widespread integration of self-driving cars could address several of China’s quality of life problems, such as crippling air pollution, traffic congestion and erratic driving that sees more than 200,000 people die in road accidents each year.

Let’s not forget China is home to the world’s worst traffic jams.

A Holistic Approach to Autonomous Cars

The industry is working towards a car that can adapt to any condition and drive on its own, which is necessary. However, on a city level, things get interesting when not only to do cars drive themselves but they also talk to each other and the roads. Managing traffic flow is complicated especially when there are tunnels and boulevards where signals get blocked and parking lots and charging spots need real time availability.

By taking a holistic approach to predicting environments beyond the information immediately available, autonomous cars can shorten their reaction time in an emergency situation where a second can mean life or death.


Western countries aren’t building new infrastructure like China is. The Mega City of Jing-Jin-Ji  is under construction and slated to be completed by 2020 and with a population of 100 Million, and will be larger than Japan. That is a lot of new infrastructure, high-speed rails and motorways are being constructed and you bet that autonomous cars are in their plans.

Autonomous cars will be able to leverage smart city infrastructure. By making the big picture of traffic available a car know how to change gear and plan fuel consumption by itself for higher economic performance.

With faster development cycles and more to gain China has the ability to take on the challenges of the autonomous car like no other region. Currently, there is no incumbent in autonomous drive, and having the lead now doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to come out on top. Through partnerships and providing the right ecosystem, China could become and even create the next industry leader.