Chinese tech titan Baidu (ticker: BIDU) on Thursday received approval to operate commercial driverless robo-taxi services in a specified area in Beijing, boosting action in Hong Kong.
Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai Inc. backed by (7203.Japan) was also granted a license, in the first regulatory approvals for driverless taxis paid for by Chinese authorities, after trial periods.
Baidu’s Apollo Go service, known as Luobo Kuaipao in China, has been approved to pick up and drop off paying passengers in a 60 square kilometer area in Beijing’s Economic and Technological Development Zone. The company’s fleet of 67 vehicles will cover more than 600 pickup and drop-off points in commercial and residential areas, Baidu said.
Baidu wants to launch its driverless taxi service in 100 cities by the end of the decade, and Thursday’s approval will be seen as a key step in the process. It was certainly viewed this way by investors as the Hong Kong-listed stock (9888: Hong Kong) climbed 4.5%.
When the US market reopens on Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday, Baidu’s US-listed stocks could be one to watch. The stock has fallen 30% since the start of the year, largely due to China’s large-scale crackdown, which has hit tech stocks particularly hard.
It fell 10% in the past week, during which the company announced its third quarter results. These profits may have exceeded expectations, both for profit and revenue, but Baidu warned ad sales would be affected by regulatory repression in the coming quarters.