Chinese Autonomous Car Company WeRide Launches “Robovan” For Delivery

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The WeRide Robovan is an autonomous car designed for urban logistics. WeRide has partnered with automaker Jiangling Motors and delivery company ZTO Express for the Robovan project.

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Guangzhou, China – Chinese autonomous driving startup WeRide has partnered with leading automakers and shipping companies to launch self-driving vans.

A strategic partnership between WeRide, the automaker Jiangling Motors Corp. (JMC) and the delivery company ZTO Express aims to market and mass produce “Robovan” for urban logistics.

WeRide, supported by Nissan, manufactures autonomous driving systems for a variety of vehicles. Since 2019, we have been testing robot axes, or autonomous taxis, in the streets of Guangzhou, China, where our head office is located. Last year, the company launched consumer services in a limited area of ​​the city.

The company is also testing an autonomous bus called Robobus. The testing of these vehicles allowed the development of Robovan.

“We have seen that the border between passenger cars and urban logistics vehicles has disappeared,” WeRide CEO Tony Han told CNBC on Thursday. “It’s an autonomous car. If you put a seat in it, it acts as a robot accelerator. If you put a cabinet in it, it’s actually a logistics car.

“These two candidacies [robotaxi and logistics] Technology can be shared and both can potentially generate significant revenue and profit. Do you want to try both? Han said.

WeRide will provide Robovan with an autonomous driving system, JMC will be in charge of manufacturing and ZTO will deploy vehicles for logistics operations.

According to Han, the company is likely to test the Robovan and install two or three locations to improve the performance of the vehicle. Once these pilot projects are completed, Robovan can be deployed on a large scale. Han declined to provide a timeline for this, but said he expects “tens of thousands” of vehicles to be deployed in the future.

WeRide is one of the standalone Chinese startups and is worth around $ 3.3 billion. It competes with companies such as Baidu and Pony.ai. It is growing rapidly and acquired an autonomous truck business called MoonX.AI earlier this year. MoonX already had a relationship with ZTO Express prior to the acquisition.

According to Han, WeRide has been working with JMC on logistics research projects since 2019. Upon acquiring MoonX, WeRide successfully introduced ZTO Express as a partner.

WeRide’s business model revolves around not only licensing technology, but also involvement in the final operation of ZTO’s logistics network using Robovans.

“By doing this, we can continue to earn money and at the same time get feedback on how to improve our products,” Han said.

Shortage of crisps

The global semiconductor shortage affects the entire industry, including automakers.

WeRide’s autonomous driving system relies on various chips given the amount of sensors involved. Han said the company could have an impact on the business as it begins to produce larger vehicles.

“We use sensor towers, all of these sensors, computing units, so a shortage of these types of chips can affect our delivery and… our deployment plans. I think, “Han said.

He said the chip shortage will not affect the ongoing project with JMC and ZTO. But he said if a company needs to manufacture 10,000 to 50,000 Robobans, the company can see the effect.

“We need to work in advance on the supply chain and how to protect it,” Han said.

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