One of Tesla’s prime competitors in China, Baidu, unveiled its newest robotaxi design Thursday and plans to begin drastically expanding its driverless taxi services in 2023, a year ahead of Tesla’s plans to do the same, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Baidu’s vehicle, the Apollo RT6, will be priced at $37,000, a significant decrease from the $71,000 that Baidu’s 2021 version of the car cost, according to the WSJ.
The significantly lower cost barrier and plans for mass production come as global auto manufacturers race to gobble up market share in what is likely to be a very lucrative autonomous vehicle industry, the WSJ added.
Baidu claims that the 2022 Apollo RT6 has the road skills of a driver with 20 years’ experience, and while Chinese laws still require the presence of a safety driver, the vehicle’s steering wheel is detachable, and could ultimately be replaced with more seating, vending machines, work desks or gaming consoles, the BBC reported.
“This massive cost reduction will enable us to deploy tens of thousands of AVs [autonomous vehicles] across China. We are moving towards a future where taking a robotaxi will be half the cost of taking a taxi today,” Robin Li, co-founder and CEO of Baidu, said in a press release.
Baidu already has a small fleet of robotaxis running in 10 Chinese cities, but plans to start massive expansions of their services in 2023, ultimately seeking to have over 100,000 Apollo RT6 models on the road, according to the BBC.
“Our overseas robotaxi expansion is still under planning [sic],” a Baidu spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation, adding that the company tests driverless vehicles in California for research and development purposes.
Tesla hopes to launch its own robotaxi model sometime next year and start mass production in 2024, according to the WSJ.