byd on autonomous cars

China’s BYD, which is the largest seller of NEVs (new energy vehicles) globally has said that self-driving technology has more utility in industries rather than in cars and fully autonomous cars are ‘impossible.”

Elon Musk, whose Tesla offers the FSD (full-self driving) for $15,000 might disagree though.

Last year, BYD shipped 1.86 million vehicles which were almost equally distributed between BEVs (battery electric vehicles) and PHEVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles).

The company also offers assisted driving in some of its models but hasn’t bet as much on the technology as Tesla.

On the sidelines of the Shanghai Auto Show, a BYD spokesperson Li Yunfei said “When we think about [self-driving tech] from all aspects, from human psychological safety needs, from ethics, from regulation, from technology — including application in this industry — we haven’t figured out [the logic] and we think it is probably a false proposition.”

Li added that the technology might be better suited for factories rather than in vehicles.

Meanwhile, some of the other Chinese companies might not agree with BYD – Baidu for instance is expanding its robotaxi business – while Xpeng Motors expects to roll out its Navigation Guided Pilot to all Chinese cities by the end of 2024.

BYD Says Fully Autonomous Cars are “Impossible”

Li said, “We think self-driving tech that’s fully separated from humans is very, very far away, and basically impossible.”

Musk meanwhile sees FSD as a key driver and predicted that its price would eventually rise to $100,000. Many Tesla bulls also like the stock for its software capabilities.

During Tesla’s Q4 2022 earnings call, Musk said that he does not see any company which is even a “distant second” to Tesla in self-driving. He added, “I don’t think you could see a second place with a telescope, at least we can’t.”

Since 2014, Musk has been talking about Tesla cars getting fully autonomous and the deadline only got extended to the “next year.”

Also, the software – including the very name “full self-driving” – has been in controversies.

Companies Have a Mixed View of Autonomous Driving

Meanwhile, companies have a mixed view of autonomous driving.

Uber was among the first companies to ditch its autonomous driving business and in 2020 it sold the business to Aurora Innovation, a self-driving startup. In return, Uber took a stake in the company and is the biggest stockholder now.

Last year, Ford booked a $2.7 billion noncash charge on its investment in Argo AI – an autonomous driving startup that wound up operations.

Ford also said that it would not focus on L4 autonomous systems. Ford’s CEO Jim Farley said that while companies have spent a cumulative $100 billion towards level 4 autonomous vehicles, no company has been able to define a profitable business model.

Meanwhile, it is not all gloom and doom and some companies continue to invest in autonomous driving. At its investor day last year, General Motors said that it is not backing out from investing in Waymo – its autonomous driving subsidiary.

BYD Says It Would be Difficult to Apportion Blame in Accidents

Coming back to BYD, the company said that nearly 2 million people die annually in accidents, and in case the cars are fully autonomous it would be difficult to apportion the blame.

Musk might disagree with this view as he has said multiple times that fully autonomous driving would help bring down accidents.

In January 2022, Musk said that he “would be shocked” if FSD wasn’t “safer than a human” before the end of the year.

However, there were accidents allegedly involving the FSD last year. This year, a Tesla crashed into a stationary firetruck and regulators are investigating whether the car was on assisted driving during the incident.

There have been multiple instances of Tesla cars crashing into stationary emergency vehicles.

Last year, former US presidential candidate Ralph Nader called upon regulators to recall the FSD calling it “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.”

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