Beijing auto show seen as showcase for self-driving vehicles

Chinese car makers expected to demonstrate their progress in development of autonomous cars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 9:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 11:30pm

Chinese carmakers are set to showcase their prowess in self-driving vehicles at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition this week, offering up a snapshot of emerging trends in the world’s largest auto market.

Just a week before the auto show, a driverless car manufactured by Changan Automobile completed a six-day journey travelling 2,000 kilometres from the Shenzhen-listed carmaker’s headquarters in Chongqing to Beijing. The road trip marked the longest road test of a self-driving car in China.

The car employed cameras and radar forassisting the driver in traffic manoeuvres such as changing lanes and passing vehicles. It was also able to recognise traffic signs and follow voice commands.

Changan has brought the prototype vehicle, based on its sedan model Raeton, to the 10-day Beijing auto show which kicks-off Monday. Mass production of the vehicles is expected to begin in 2019.

The Beijing auto show, which alternates each year with a similar event in Shanghai, has been an important event for carmakers at home and abroad because of the huge potential in the Chinese market. More than 1,600 exhibitors, mostly carmakers, will showcase their wares at this year’s show, with 112 car models set to make their global debuts.

Joining the show for the first time, Chinese entertainment giant LeEco will be in the spotlight as it introduces its self-driving all-electric concept car, named LeSEE, ahead of the auto show. The company says its goal is to compete with Tesla’s Model S.

LeEco chairman Jia Yueting did a live demo at a debut event on Wednesday, demonstrating the car’s self-driving and self-parking capability through a mobile phone app using voice commands.

“We are not just building an electric smart car, we want to build new mobility for the future,” said Ding Lei, head of LeEco’s automobile division.

The concept car prototype, which has a top speed of 130 miles per hour, will integrate LeEco’s strength in online video streaming, car-hailing and screen technology.

“There are not many companies like LeEco and Tesla who can be 100 per cent engaged into developing electric smart cars, but we do as we think it is a blue sea,” he said.

A few years ago, it was difficult to imagine sitting in a moving car without a driver. BAIC Motor wants to bring this experience to the auto show’s visitors.

The Chinese automaker has set up a test drive area covering about 7,000 square meters outside the exhibition hall and has prepared four driverless cars.

The complex road conditions and unpredictable behaviour of road users in China will limit the popularity of driverless cars, said John Zeng, an analyst at consultancy LMC Automotive.

“It’s hard to make fully automated vehicles popular in China, but some auto-pilot features that help enhance safety will be a trend in the future,” Zeng said.

Sinolink Securities analyst Cui Yan expects more breakthroughs in smart cars this year, adding that internet companies’ involvement in the auto industry will help accelerate technology development.

Baidu is among the internet companies tapping into the auto segment, having teamed up with German carmaker BMW to build driverless cars in China.

Driverless cars will likely become more commercialised in 2020 as production lines pick up, Cui said.

Global carmakers and technology giants are betting big to bring self-driving cars to market in the next few years. Tesla expects self-driving cars to be on the road in the US in two to four years, while Google has set a target to bring the cars to market by 2019.

Foreign carmakers such as Japan’s Nissan and Swedish Volvo will also showcase their autonomous vehicles at the Beijing auto show.