China gives first approvals for public trials of advanced autonomous driving

China has approved the first group of nine automakers to carry out tests on vehicles with advanced autonomous driving technologies on public roads, as part of a plan to accelerate the adoption of self–driving cars.

The tests of so-called Level 3 autonomous driving technologies will be carried out by automakers including BYD and Nio, as well as major state-owned manufacturers such as Changan Automobile, GAC and SAIC, according to a statement published by the industry ministry on Tuesday.

Fleet operators, such as ride-hailing companies will also be involved in the tests.

The automotive industry has defined five levels of autonomous driving, ranging from driver-assist features such as cruise control at level one to fully autonomous vehicles at level five.

China issued national plan guidance last November to begin accepting applications from companies seeking to deploy more fully autonomous vehicles for widespread adoption.

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In the plan, drivers in the test vehicles are allowed to take their hands off the steering wheels, with automakers and fleet operators taking responsibility for safety.

The ministry said the trial would pave way for further commercialization of more advanced autonomous driving technologies, the ministry said, without elaborating. Automaker executives said it was a step closer to allowing individual buyers and fleet operators to sell and use Level 3 vehicles.

At least 10 automakers and suppliers, including Huawei and Xpeng, offer Level 2 autonomous driving capabilities in China, which still requires an alert driver with both hands on the wheel.

Reuters reported that Tesla is also preparing to deliver its “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software to Chinese users within a year. FSD is also a Level 2 system, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk said more fully autonomous vehicles are close.

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