(MENAFN- Asia Times)
The Chinese government has started a one-month public consultation for a nationwide law that will allow driverless cars to run on roads and will define the legal responsibility when traffic accidents happen.
The Ministry of Transport on Monday (August 8) released a set of guidelines that encourages the use of self-driving cars for taxi services under certain conditions. The public consultation on the guidelines will end on September 7.
Shares of automobile part suppliers, particularly makers of driver assistance systems, surged on Tuesday on the news. Shenzhen-listed Zhengzhou Tiamaes rose 20% to 28.94 yuan (US$4.29) while Shanghai-listed Harbin VITI Electronic increased 4% to 4.98 yuan.
However, some analysts pointed out that many automakers were suffering from chip shortages as an e-vehicle can use up to 300 micro-controllers (MCU), most of which are produced in Taiwan.
They said such a situation could worsen if the net effect of the Chips and Science Act, signed by US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, is to discourage chip makers from building new fabs in mainland China.
Self-driving vehicle makers worldwide have actively promoted their products while struggling to meet safety requirements. In the US, major players include Ford, General Motors and Tesla – with some of them using Google Maps and others developing their own navigation systems.
In China, key related brands include Baidu's Apollo, Pony.ai, Xpeng, Alibaba's AutoX, Nio and BYD.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 400 crashes involving fully or partially self-driving cars were recorded in the US between July 2021 and May 2o22. About three-quarters of the high-tech cars were made by Tesla.
Workers at the Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai on November 20, 2020. Photo: Xinhua
On August 12 last year, a 31-year-old man who operated a restaurant chain in Shanghai was killed when riding in a Nio ES8 in partial self-driving mode in the southeastern Fujian province. On June 22 this year, two testing staff members died in a Nio autonomous car after it fell from the third floor of an office building onto the ground floor in Shanghai.
According to the new Ministry of Transport guidelines, self-driving vehicles will soon be allowed to serve as buses on dedicated routes but they will not be allowed to carry dangerous goods. Remote drivers or safety officers are needed for fully autonomous vehicles. More highly autonomous vehicles are required to have backup drivers.
Even before a nationwide law that regulates self-driving cars has been passed, some Chinese cities have permitted so-called“robotaxis” to run on roads.
On August 1, a set of new rules that regulate the commercial use of intelligent automobiles took effect in Shenzhen. The regulation has become the first of its kind to be implemented in a Chinese city.
Chongqing and Wuhan also unveiled trial schemes for driverless car service providers to begin their commercial operations. Baidu's Apollo said it had been testing its robotaxis on roads and would apply for permission to start the services as soon as possible.
By 2030, China's ride-hailing market is expected to have grown by 20-28% annually to reach 2.25 trillion yuan, 60% of which will be served by robotaxis, according to a report released by IHS Markit last year.
The report predicted two to three robotaxi operators would dominate the market in mainland China while Baidu, an internet giant that specializes in search engines and maps, would benefit from a first-mover advantage.
Ronnie Ho, an analyst at CCB International, wrote in a report:
However, chip shortages remain the biggest challenge for China's automakers.
A Chinese columnist wrote in an article on Monday that the United States' newly-passed Chips and Science Act could limit Chinese automobile makers' output in the next five years. He wrote an electric vehicle can use up to 300 MCU chips – and Taiwan's TSMC supplies 60-70% of these chips globally.
He noted that the manufacturing of MCU chips does not require the most cutting-edge technology, as it only uses 16 to 40 nanometer (nm) chips, some of which can be made by Chinese chip makers. But he said the supply of these chips will remain a bottleneck for the sector's growth as Chinese automakers tend to use Taiwanese chips to ensure driver safety.
Many so-called Chinese-made chips actually involve Taiwanese technology, he noted.
The writer added that TSMC co-developed some 16-nm and 28-nm chips for Horizon Robotics, a Beijing-based auto chip maker, and also produced the Chinese firm's 14-nm chips, namely Journey 5. He said the two companies plan to extend their partnership to 7-nm chips.
Beijing-based Horizon Robotics' Journey 5 chip is said to be produced by Taiwan's TSMC. Photo: Horizon Robotics
On Tuesday, Biden signed the Chips and Science Act to boost domestic semiconductor production and scientific research to enhance US competitiveness vis-a-vis China. The new law grants $54 billion of subsidies and tax benefits to US-based chip makers over the next five years.
The law forbids recipients of federal incentive funds to expand or newly build manufacturing capacity for certain advanced semiconductors in specific countries that present national security threats to the US, i.e. China.
It is likely that TSMC, which has production lines in Arizona in the US, will face difficulty if it has to choose between America and mainland China.
State media, including China Central TV, criticized the US Congress for introducing a bill that purposefully obstructs normal technological cooperation between the US and China. The reports said the US is hypocritical as it claims to be promoting a free market but in practice forces semiconductor makers to take sides and shun mainland China.
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