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China wants self-driving tech in half of new cars by 2025

Beijing doubles earlier target as Baidu and Didi test robotaxis

Didi Chuxing, China's top ride-hailing company, is testing an autonomous taxi service in Beijing.

BEIJING -- China aims to have vehicles with partial self-driving technology account for 50% of all new-auto sales by 2025, double its previous goal, as the country encourages local companies to pull ahead of the U.S. in the field.

Under a plan released Wednesday, new vehicles with "level 2" or "level 3" automation are to make up 70% of sales by 2030. Level 2 assists the driver with steering, acceleration and braking, while level 3 means vehicles drive themselves under certain conditions such as on highways.

China in 2017 called for level 2 and 3 vehicles to make up 25% of new-car sales in the world's largest auto market by 2025. Beijing considered raising the target to 30% last year, but is hitting the gas pedal now as China positions autonomous and "new energy" vehicles as a strategic emerging industry.

About 10% of new vehicles sold in China during the first half of 2020 carry level 2 automation, local media report.

The new plan also seeks to have level 4 autonomous vehicles, which require no human input except in emergencies, on the market by 2025 and account for 20% of sales in 2030. China looks to expand use of high-level self-driving technology nationwide by 2035 and integrate such vehicles into so-called smart cities.

China will enact policies and legislation based on this road map, released by the National Innovation Center of Intelligent and Connected Vehicles at the direction of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Beijing is counting on Chinese tech companies to make this vision a reality.

Search engine company Baidu has received state support for its Apollo self-driving technology project, launched in 2017. Trials of an autonomous taxi service are underway in Hunan and Hebei provinces and parts of Beijing. Didi Chuxing, China's largest ride-hailing company, is testing a similar service in Shanghai.

Tech names ranging from startups like Pony.ai to giants such as Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings are increasing development in the field.

Though Tesla and Toyota Motor have led the way among automakers, Chinese players such as Geely Automobile Holdings, part of the group that owns Sweden-based Volvo Cars, are pushing into the fray as well. Nearly 100 new models with level 2 technology reportedly were rolled out in the first nine months of 2020, according to Chinese media.

On the regulatory side, with the commercialization of level 3 vehicles on the horizon, China is considering easing rules as early as next year to allow self-driving vehicles on public roads.

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