Unlike some other companies that have made bold promises about robotaxis <cough> Elon Musk <cough> Tesla <cough> one million robotaxis <cough>, it looks as though the rubber is literally hitting the road for Baidu's autonomous driving segment.
Baidu held its Q2 2021 conference call on Thursday morning at 8AM and much of the focus was on autonomous driving and the company's progress and plans for rolling out robotaxis.
"Earlier this year, Baidu's autonomous driving unit Apollo launched paid robotaxi services, that operate without a driver behind the steering wheel, in Beijing and Guangzhou," Yahoo noted about the company's progress thus far. Baidu has said it wants to target robotaxi services to 3 million users by 2023, the report continued.
The biggest headline from the call was that Baidu expected the cost of its robotaxi services to be less than human drivers by 2025.
CEO Robin Li said on the company's conference call: "Based on our current projection, I think by the year 2025, we will cross the line, which means that the total cost of Robotaxi ride-hailing will be lower than manned-vehicle ride-hailing. And after that, I think that the scale will be able to grow much larger than it is today. And I think around that time, we should be able to report in a separate line."
CFO Herman Yu followed up, emphasizing that the economics of robotaxis would continue to improve: "And if you look at what Robin just said, throughout to 2025, what we're seeing in the economics is that in a ride-hailing with after drivers, look the concept of a person -- labor costs only goes up, it doesn't go down over time, but you're competing with technology. You're competing with the fact that the more miles that we have, the more data that we have, our operation experience that this thing will continue to go down."
Li also went into further detail on how the economics were starting to favor the company: "As pointed out earlier, our fifth-generation robotaxi vehicles saw another 60% drop in cost per mile compared to an average decrease of 62% in the first 4 generations of AV vehicles. We plan to roll out Apollo Go ride-hailing across 30 cities over the next 2 to 3 years."
Yu also noted that the company already had robotaxis on the road - a far cry from certain U.S.-based competitors: "If you look at today in Shougang Park in Beijing, we believe we're the only second autonomous driving car company in the world, where you actually have a car driving without someone at the driver's seat."
He continued: "So I think that shows the number of years of experience that we've been doing in autonomous driving. It also just shows the fact that we've been doing operations for autonomous driving for a while. That's why we can get the permit and actually start testing that. So it's open to the public. You guys are free to come and look at how autonomous driving is being done without someone at the driver's seat."