Chinese Tech Giant Alibaba Is Testing Self-Driving Cars, Report Says

But the company has some catching up to do.

Beijing, January 2011
Remko Tanis—Getty Images

Alibaba is the latest company to test self-driving cars in China, according to a new report. The Chinese tech giant has been conducting regular road tests and is looking to hire 50 people for its autonomous-car development program, according to the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.

While it could bring considerable resources to the table, Alibaba also has to catch up to rival companies. Fellow Chinese tech firm Baidu recently received permission to test self-driving cars on the streets of Beijing, and Tencent reportedly began conducting tests in the city earlier this month. In February, startup Pony.ai launched a small-scale autonomous ride-hailing pilot in China.

According to the South China Morning Post, Alibaba is looking to develop an SAE Level 4 autonomous-driving system. That means cars equipped with this system would be able to drive themselves most of the time, but might still need occasional human intervention. Level 5 is the SAE designation for cars that do not require any human input at all.

China has several of the same qualities that have spurred development of self-driving cars in the United States, including traffic congestion in cities and a plethora of tech companies looking to expand into the automotive business. However, China may prove to be an even more important market for autonomous cars than the U.S.

The country is currently the world's largest new-car market, so it has a major influence on automaker product plans. And it appears that China really wants self-driving cars. A recent study found that Chinese consumers are more trusting of the technology than their U.S. and German counterparts, and it's possible that the Chinese government will offer incentives for autonomous cars, just as it currently does with electric cars.