AutoX corners Shanghai self-driving taxi market

Company is expanding faster than Google and Uber thanks to moxie and smart partnerships.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A company that seemingly came out of nowhere in 2018 and has been leading the pack in self-driving services ever since is about to corner its home market, the globally strategic city of Shanghai. Since April, AutoX has been running a testbed of its autonomous taxi service, and now the rollout will cement its headstart.

AutoX recently made news in California for winning a coveted permit to test its driverless cars without drivers, just the third company to be awarded the permit. Meanwhile, in China, the company, which is helmed by a former Princeton professor known affectionately as Professor X, has made start strategic partnerships, including with Alibaba. AutoX's autonomous taxi pilot program allowed users to hail the taxis with Alibaba's map product,  AutoNavi.

The so-called RoboTaxi ride-hailing service is now open generally to the public for the first time, and the AutoNavi partnership will carry over. Additionally, AutoX has struck up a strategic partnership with a major taxi fleet operations company called Letzgo, illustrating a savvy propensity for operations expansion through alliance. The partnership will allow AutoX RoboTaxis to be hailed through Letzgo's smartphone app, on top of Alibaba's AutoNavi app, in the coming weeks. 

On its surface Letzgo may seem like a peculiar partner. The company has 16,000 human-operated vehicles. But the writing is on the wall for rideshare services. Lacking the ability to develop its own self-driving development, ala Uber, Letzgo is teaming up with AutoX and vowing to retrain staff to operate RoboTaxis. It's hard to believe the longterm model will leave room for the same scale of human-led workforce, however. 

The appeal of self-driving taxis is even greater as the pandemic, largely under control in China, rages elsewhere in the world. AutoX says it has taken special measures, including a voice recognition system instead of touchscreens. AutoX is currently testing its vehicles in Shenzhen, Wuhan, Wuhu, and several other cities around the world. 

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