Alibaba’s confirmation in joining the race for autonomous vehicles will move China’s biggest tech company’s competitions to a higher gear. The statement was made days after Tencent made a similar announcement.
Alibaba revealed on Tuesday it had been developing self-driving vehicle technology, conducting regular road tests and has the capability to conduct trials on open roads. The company told China Daily it was making “rapid progress.”
The e-commerce giant was perhaps forced into making the announcement to avoid a loss of face to its rival Tencent, which unveiled a self-driving car research and development deal with Chinese automaker FAW Group on Sunday.
Unverified reports last November had already suggested Tencent was working on autonomous cars, and the company released footage of a self-driving car on a Beijing highway earlier this month.
Both companies are in a domestic trio race alongside Baidu, which has been openly developing its Apollo autonomous technology since 2015. The company received a license to begin test-driving its vehicles on Beijing roads in March, and carried out a 5G trial of its autonomous driving technology in Xiongan New Area.
The three companies – particularly Tencent and Alibaba – have frequently clashed with each other in order to gain partners and invest in upcoming companies in a bid to gain a foothold in the latest technology.
While the autonomous vehicle race is just around the corner, it was the competition on two wheels that really brought the tech giants’ rivalry to attention. When bike sharing expanded rapidly across Chinese cities in 2016, Tencent and Alibaba poured billions of yuan into backing the two front-runners, ofo and Mobike.
The progressively strong competition to release the first self-driving car in China is good news for consumers keen to get their hands on the technology, but there are concerns that safety could be compromised.
Despite fatalities in the US as a result of self-driving trials by Uber and Tesla, Chinese authorities will allow autonomous vehicle testing in every Chinese city and province from May 1. The government has set an ambitious target of making 50 percent of all road vehicles “intelligent” by 2020 – meaning they can partially or completely drive themselves.