Baidu's robotaxi division to wheel into profit next year

Expansion set for Wuhan. Chances this will go smoothly?

Chinese tech giant Baidu expects its robotaxi wing, Apollo Go, to be profitable next year.

Or more specifically, according to Baidu's representatives, its self-driving division's unit economics are right now nearing break-even in Wuhan, and are expected to achieve balance in the fourth quarter of 2024, and turn profitable by 2025.

The tech giant also told The Register its sixth generation robotaxi costs around half of the last model at ¥200,000 ($28,000).

Apollo Go 6th generation vehicle

6th gen Apollo Go vehicle – click to enlarge

The driverless aspect is thanks to a foundation model capable of supporting Level 4 autonomous driving, called Apollo ADFM.

Media reports have also indicated that the latest vehicles allow riders to sit in the front passenger seat for the first time and come with rear doors that slide open.

"The vehicles will join Apollo's robotaxi fleet on Apollo Go, the company's autonomous ride-hailing platform," Baidu stated.

"By 2024, Apollo Go plans to deploy 1,000 6th Gen robotaxis in Wuhan."

Apollo Go has been charging for robotaxi rides since November 2021, both with a driver and without. Its Q4 2023 report revealed 45 percent of robotaxi rides in Wuhan were driverless.

Baidu operates robotaxis in more than ten cities. Overall, the Apollo Go fleet provided 839,000 rides in Q4 2023, a 49 percent increase year-on-year. The company reckons with Apollo ADFM, it can now "deploy driverless robotaxi operations from the ground up in new cities within six months."

The Wuhan fleet, however, is the most extensive and the company is counting on it to pull it into profit. The service area in Wuhan covers 3,000 square kilometers and half of the city's population, Baidu said.

"Apollo Go has established a fully autonomous robotaxi operation network in Wuhan. The advanced network is now capable of managing the entire robotaxi operation, including vehicle activation, dispatch, battery swapping, cleaning control, and retrieval, all without human intervention. Upon completion, this innovative network is expected to significantly reduce operational costs."

Here's hoping robotaxis have an easier time on Wuhan's roads than in places like San Francisco, where the populace lit one on fire.

That destroyed vehicle belonged to Google-owned Waymo.

On Monday, the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into self-driving car maker Waymo after it received reports of 22 incidents where the company's fifth generation automated driving system (ADS) crashed or "exhibited driving behavior that potentially violated traffic safety laws."

General Motors-owned robotaxi venture Cruise was reported this week to have reached a more than $8 million settlement with a pedestrian in San Francisco who was dragged behind one of its vehicles last October.

The incident cost Cruise more than $8 million when the company saw its valuation drop by half and operations grind to a halt.

The condition of the pedestrian is unknown.

Cruise announced on Monday it will begin testing autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona. Human safety drivers will remain at the ready in the vehicles should they need to take over.

"For the past several weeks Cruise has been mapping and collecting road information in Phoenix. Now, we will validate our AV's end-to-end behaviors against our rigorous safety and AV performance requirements," the company said.

According to Baidu, Apollo Go "has safely traveled over 100 million kilometers without any major accidents as of April 2024."

Cruise, General Motors' self-driving subsidiary has generated $4.6 billion in operating losses for its parent over the last two years. Waymo, meanwhile, is not yet thought to be profitable. Alphabet includes its self driving unit in its "Other Bets" category, which for its calendar Q1, 2024 reported revenues of $495 million and an operating loss of $1.02 billion. ®

Editor's note: This article was revised on May 17 to include Apollo Go's timeline to profitability.

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