Geely boss urges Beijing to open high-definition mapping market to boost self driving cars

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 9:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 10:47pm

The chairman of Chinese carmaker Geely Automobile has urged Beijing to allow more companies to be involved in high-definition mapping, which he sees as the key barrier that may prevent the country from winning the global autonomous driving race.

Li Shufu, founder of the Chinese carmaker that owns Volvo, wrote in a proposal to the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which will meet in Beijing on Friday, that it is high time for the central government to “cautiously” open the high-definition mapping market in order to lower the threshold for developing autonomous driving technology.

“Countries across the world have been gearing up their efforts in autonomous driving in order to occupy the commanding height in the battle before self-driving cars hit mass production by 2020,” Li wrote in the proposal to China’s political advisory body.

It will improve the overall competence of the country’s autonomous driving industry
Li Shufu, Geely chairman

“If China can adjust the rules to allow more qualified companies to participate in mapping, it will improve the overall competence of the country’s autonomous driving industry,” he said in a letter published on his company’s website on Wednesday.

Carmakers and tech companies on the mainland, which boasts the world’s largest automobile market, are competing in autonomous driving with the likes of Google in the United States, Daimler in Germany and Nissan in Japan.

High-definition mapping is an important tool used by self-driving cars for navigation.

However, there are only a limited number of companies licensed by the central government to carry out this work because geographic maps are seen as being of great political, scientific and legal importance to a country.

Tencent, partners invest in HERE’s digital maps to get a leg up on self-driving cars

In December last year Chinese online social and entertainment giant Tencent Holdings, its affiliate NavInfo, and the Singapore Government jointly invested 243 million (US$256 million) for a 10 per cent stake of Netherlands-based high-definition map provider Here Global BV.

Tencent is a backer of Future Mobility Corp, which plans to start selling fully electric, highly automated cars around the world by 2020.

In the race to develop self-driving cars, the US and Europe are technology leaders but China is coming up fast in the outside lane with a top-down regulatory structure that could put it ahead in the adoption of autonomous cars on its highways and city streets.

Up to 20 per cent of vehicles in China will be highly autonomous by 2025, and up to 10 per cent of cars will be fully self-driving by 2030, according to a transcript of comments made in October last year by Ouyang Minggao, the leader of a group of experts commissioned by the country’s auto industry regulator to draw up the targets.

Volvo, which was bought by Geely in 2010, has been recruiting people living in Gothenburg, Sweden to test drive its autonomous cars on public roads since the beginning of this year.

The Zhenjiang province-based carmaker has teamed up with Chinese internet giant Baidu in autonomous driving development.

Baidu, which operates China’s dominant search engine, has set a goal to mass produce self-driving cars by 2020.