A new draft guideline was unveiled on Wednesday to expand tests for autonomous driving vehicles in China, which analysts said will accelerate the healthy development of the industry and commercialization of related products and technologies.
The guideline, jointly unveiled by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Public Security, means that road tests for autonomous driving vehicles will be gradually carried out nationwide. Before the guideline, such work was usually promoted by local governments such as in Beijing and Shenzhen, Guangdong province, the experts added.
The move is also the latest signal that policies for internet-connected vehicles are becoming increasingly transparent and open in China, as the country aims to establish a beachhead in the strategically important sector.
The guideline, which is soliciting public feedback until Dec 1, said the two ministries will select eligible vehicle manufacturers and internet-connected vehicles equipped with autonomous driving functionality that meet the conditions for mass production to carry out tests on selected public roads in pilot cities.
The autonomous driving function mentioned in the guideline refers to level 3 and level 4, which designate conditional autonomous driving and highly autonomous driving, respectively. Level 3 and level 4 are part of broader standards developed in relation to the degree to which autonomous machines take over driving functions.
Level 3 means that drivers can afford not to pay attention in certain situations. Level 4 means that vehicles can perform all driving tasks under specific circumstances, but human overrides are still an option.
A technical director of an autonomous driving startup said that the starting point for the pilot programs is very demanding, as level 3 and level 4 are closer to advanced autonomous driving technologies.
Chang Zhenting, secretary-general of the Autonomous Driving Industry Alliance for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, said China is improving its legal framework for the research and development, production, purchase and sale of autonomous vehicles as the nation accelerates the commercialization of autonomous vehicles while ensuring public safety.
Jia Yuanhua, a professor of transportation engineering at the school of traffic and transportation at Beijing Jiaotong University, said the autonomous driving industry is nearing a "golden inflection point of growth", as central and local government policies become more open and clear.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that 30 percent of new vehicles sold in the first half in China feature either level 2 or driver assistance technologies. That means around 3.61 million vehicles that hit the road from January to June have functions that include lane-keeping and cruise control.
Lyu Jinghong, an intelligent mobility analyst at research firm BloombergNEF, said continuous testing on public roads, easing regulations and cost reductions in autonomous vehicle manufacturing will help accelerate the commercialization of self-driving cars.
According to a report issued by BloombergNEF, China will operate the world's largest robotaxi fleet with about 12 million units by 2040, followed by the United States, which is expected to have around 7 million autonomous vehicles by that time.