Alliance Ventures, the venture capital offshoot of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance has invested in WeRide.ai, a Chinese L4 autonomous start-up only founded in 2017. ByPaul Fisher

The investment is significant as the group’s first investment in China and a rare example of a Chinese start-up to receive financial backing from a foreign automotive group. With the investment, the company plans to launch a fleet of 500 autonomous vehicles in 2019 for conduct commercial trials.

China is the world’s biggest car market and increasingly becoming a test bed for electric and autonomous vehicle technology with global players looking for a way in. The number of EV start-ups in China is thought to run into hundreds, although analysts expect few to survive in the long term. 

Automotive incumbents are more attracted to the country’s growing stack of autonomous vehicle expertise found among tech companies such as Roadstra.ai, Pony.ai, Baidu.ai and NIO. Daimler backed Momenta claims to be on track to to deploy a self-driving fleet in eastern Suzhou by year end.

These companies are competing fiercely with each other and US based rivals, Waymo and GM subsidiary Cruise, to launch viable fleets of autonomous vehicles. 

The Chinese market is further stimulated by a government that actively wants to create smart cities and have 30 million autonomous vehicle on its roads by 2020. 

WeRide.ai’s stated ambition to bring fully viable  autonomous vehicles into Chinese cities by 2020 is a challenge. For Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, that target its less important than the value the investment will bring to its autonomous vehicle plans in markets outside China. 

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