Baidu says its robotaxis rivals traditional transport in parts of China

Baidu was granted permission to charge fares for its robotaxi rides in the Beijing suburb of Yizhuang in November 2021.

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BEIJING — Chinese technology company Baidu said its robotaxi business in major cities is poised to gain the same popularity with locals as traditional ride-hailing services.

During the third quarter, each of Baidu’s self-driving taxis averaged more than 15 trips a day in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, CEO Robin Li said Tuesday, according to a FactSet transcript of the earnings call.

“From what we know, that number is pretty close to the average daily trips for traditional transportation services,” Li said. He did not share the number of cars in each local fleet.

By comparison, trips per active vehicle on ride-sharing apps in New York City averaged about 12 per day in September, according to the latest municipal data available.

In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Baidu’s robotaxis – branded Apollo Go – can only operate in certain suburban areas.

The company did not say whether it could charge fares for its robotaxi rides in Guangzhou or Shanghai.

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About 12 months ago, Baidu won Beijing city approved to start charging for robotaxi rides in the neighborhood of Yizhuang, about half an hour drive from the center of the capital.

These rides always require a human staff member to sit in the car.

However, this week Baidu said it had obtained approval from local authorities in Beijing to test 10 robotaxis without any human personnel in the front row.

Pony.ai, a startup that also operates a robotaxi business, said it got similar approval.

Both companies’ robotaxi rides in Beijing’s Yizhuang district remain heavily subsidized. A CNBC audit of the Apollo Go and Pony.ai apps on Wednesday found that a discount of more than 80% had been applied.

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Baidu has robotaxi operations in many cities across China and can charge fares in at least seven, according to the company.

Total robotaxi rides in the third quarter rose more than 300% from a year ago to more than 474,000 rides, the company said Tuesday.

When asked on the earnings call when Apollo Go will break even, the company said it believes the robotaxi will ultimately be profitable and cheaper than current ride-sharing services, and that the impact on Baidu’s overall profit and loss and cash flow is “manageable”. .”

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