Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hail behemoth that is a key ally of Apple and most recently took over Uber’s business in China, is working on developing self-driving cars, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The company is reportedly scouring Silicon Valley for data scientists and engineers, and Didi co-founder and CEO Cheng Wei has had talks with Gansha Wu, the former director of Intel Labs in China and founder of a Beijing-based driverless car startup called UiSee Technology. (UiSee plans to unveil its self-driving technology at CES in 2017.)
Whether that means Didi will acquire UiSee Technology, much in the way General Motors bought Cruise Automation or Uber purchased autonomous trucking startup Otto, remains to be seen.
The news that Didi is pursuing autonomous driving technology isn’t that surprising. All the major players in the transportation sector, from car makers to internet search companies to ride-hail networks, are locked in a tight race to bring driverless cars to the public. But most experts agree that we won’t be seeing these vehicles on the road in any significant numbers for a decade or more.
It’s also a sign of an emboldened Didi, which is riding high after buying out Uber’s Chinese business in early August. The deal put an end to a very expensive, high-stakes battle between the two ride-hail companies over the lucrative Chinese market. It also valued Didi at a whopping $35 billion, which includes a $1 billion investment from Apple.
It’s unclear whether Didi’s pursuit of self-driving technology will involve any technology sharing with Apple. We’ve reached out to both companies for clarification and will update this story if we hear back.
Didi will need to work fast if it wants to catch up with its competitors. China is already becoming a major staging ground for self-driving cars, with Volvo recently announcing it plans to put 100 such cars in the hands of regular people in the country. Meanwhile, Baidu, the Chinese search company, has been testing its own self-driving vehicles at home and in California.
Meanwhile, Southeast Asia’s big ride-hailing company Grab recently announced it was teaming up with self-driving startup nuTonomy to start its own limited, public test of self-driving cars in Singapore last month. And now that Didi plans to join the self-driving race, the competition is sure to heat up.
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