Didi Chuxing is the largest ride-hailing service in China, which means it is a very large company indeed. It is proposing a joint venture with Nissan and the Japanese company’s Chinese partner Dongfeng that would build non-traditional all electric vehicles optimized for ride-hailing duties. Nissan and Dongfeng would engineer and build the cars to Didi’s specifications.
Since virtually all the rides it provides would be at low speed over relatively short distances in congested cities — Didi’s two largest markets are Beijing and Shanghai — ease of entry together with a large luggage carrying capacity would have a greater priority that styling, aerodynamics, or lap times around the Nurburgring, according to Electrive. That would allow for smaller and less powerful batteries than a conventional car would require.
The joint venture between Nissan and Dongfeng in China would also take over fleet management and maintenance for Didi in a dozen or more Chinese cities. The electric cars from Nissan and Dongfeng would be capable of autonomous operation at some point in the future.
Like many other companies, Didi Chuxing is finding that creating Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles is a lot harder than anyone realized it would be and the process has a voracious appetite for cash. Accordingly, Didi is turning to SoftBank, its largest investor, for a significant new investment in order to keep its self driving program on schedule.
According to The Information, the talks between Didi and SoftBank are part of an attempt by ride-hailing companies and automakers to bring more outside investors into their autonomous driving operations. They have found it takes a lot more time and money to develop a cost effective driverless vehicle than they anticipated, so they are looking for new strategic partners and to bankroll the research. The hope is that the self-driving car projects will eventually be spun off to become separate entities that will reward outside investors with significant profits.
Together with Toyota and Tier One supplier Denso, SoftBank has made a $1 billion investment in Uber. SoftBank has also made a significant investment in Cruise Automation, the self-driving company owned by General Motors.
The London taxi developed its iconic dimensions and shape to serve the needs of taxi cab companies and riders in that city. Perhaps a similar reimagining of the automobile is in the offing as ride-hailing and transportation as a service become more common in cities around the world.