China’s Path to Autonomous Driving: MIIT Approves Level 3 Testing for Leading Automakers

2 min read
China's Path to Autonomous Driving

China's Path to Autonomous Driving

China has given the green light to nine automakers to conduct tests of Level 3 self-driving cars, marking a significant step forward in the nation’s push to advance autonomous vehicle technology. The announcement came from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), following an invitation for applications to participate in this pioneering pilot scheme.

Selected Automakers for Level 3 Testing

The chosen automakers, all based in China, include several well-known names in the automotive industry:

BYD: The Shenzhen-based company that surpassed Tesla in global electric vehicle sales in Q4 2023.
Nio: A luxury EV manufacturer from Shanghai, eyeing U.S. market entry by 2025.
Changan Automobile: A major state-owned enterprise.
SAIC: Another leading state-owned automotive firm.
GAC, BAIC BluePark, China FAW Group, SAIC Hongyan, and Yutong Bus: Other key players in the Chinese auto sector.
These companies will test their Level 3 technology in designated areas across seven cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.

Understanding Level 3 Autonomous Driving

Level 3 automation, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, allows for “hands-off, eyes-off” driving under certain conditions, although a human driver must be ready to take control when necessary. This level of automation is a significant leap from the current Level 2 driver-assistance systems, which require constant supervision by the driver.

Pilot Program Details

MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, and the Ministry of Transport jointly manage the initiative. This program is distinct from previous individual L3 testing licenses granted to companies like BMW and Mercedes for specific cities.

Selection and Approval Process

Automakers were selected after a rigorous evaluation by a panel of industry experts and academics. Criteria included the vehicles’ readiness for mass production, the sophistication of their automated functions, their testing history, and their safety protocols.

Program Stages and Objectives

The pilot program comprises five stages, with the initial selection of participants being just the beginning. The next phases involve extensive testing and safety assessments of the vehicles before they hit the roads. The ultimate goal is to refine these vehicles for mass production and to collect data that will inform national regulatory and technical standards.

Industry Impact and Future Prospects

BYD, one of the selected companies, expressed enthusiasm about participating in the program, stating that testing Level 3 technology is a crucial milestone in the journey toward fully autonomous driving.

While China is rapidly advancing in automotive technology, the most commercially available systems are still Level 2, as seen in vehicles from companies like XPeng. On the global stage, Mercedes has pioneered the rollout of Level 3 features with its Drive Pilot system, available in Germany, Nevada, and California. BMW plans to introduce Level 3 capabilities in its 7 Series in Germany by 2024.

This pilot program represents a strategic move for China to become a leader in autonomous driving technology, promising safer, more efficient transportation in the future.