Baidu claims its robotic taxis are competing with traditional ride-hailing in parts of China

Baidu received approval to collect 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 close to gaining the same appeal as traditional ride-hailing services with locals.

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

“To our knowledge, that number is pretty close to the average daily trips for traditional ridesharing services,” Li said. He didn’t share how many cars were in each local fleet.

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

In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Baidu’s Apollo Go-branded robotic taxis are only allowed to operate in certain suburban areas.

The company didn’t say whether it could charge fares for its robotaxi rides in Guangzhou or Shanghai.

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About 12 months ago, Baidu received approval from the city of Beijing to collect fares for robotaxi rides in the Yizhuang district, about a half-hour drive from the center of the capital.

These trips still require a human operator to sit in the car.

However, this week Baidu said it had received approval from local Beijing authorities to test 10 robotic taxis without human front-row staff.

Pony.ai, a start-up that also operates a robotaxi business, said it received similar approval.

Both companies’ robotic taxi rides in Beijing’s Yizhuang district continue to be heavily subsidized. A CNBC review of the Apollo Go and Pony.ai apps on Wednesday showed a discount of more than 80% was given.

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

The total number of robotaxi rides in the third quarter rose more than 300% year over year to more than 474,000 rides, the company said on Tuesday.

When asked during the conference call when Apollo Go would break even, the company said it believes the robotaxi will eventually be viable and cheaper than current ride-hailing services, and that the impact on Baidu’s overall profit and loss and cash flow ” manageable” are .”

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