Baidu speeds up auto-driving race with Shouqi bid

China's largest online search engine operator invests in car-hailing app Shouqi as it steps up the country's efforts to develop driverless cars.

Beijing-based car-hailing platform Shouqi Limousine & Chauffeur raised Rmb1.3 billion ($196 million) from a series-B round of funding, securing new capital to develop self-driving technology in partnership with some of China’s leading technology companies.

Shouqi’s driverless car ambition is underscored by the powerful new investors it drew in the latest funding round, including Baidu and Nio Capital, the private equity firm behind electric car startup Nio.

Baidu, China’s largest search engine operator, is widely regarded as leading the country’s auto-driving push. The internet giant has made it clear that it aims to produce fully autonomous cars by 2019.

Autonomous driving aside, the new funding also gives Shouqi the capital to upgrade its existing car-hailing platforms and technologies – essential if the company is to operate effectively in China’s highly-competitive car-hailing market.

Commonly known as Shouqi Yueche, the car-hailing platform currently owns some 60,000 cars and operates in 53 Chinese cities and districts.

The company is backed by state-owned companies Shouqi Group and Xianglong Taxi, which gives it a slight edge against other privately-run car-hailing apps such as Yidao Yongche, Ucar, and Feidi.

Unlike most car-hailing companies, which recruit private car owners, Shouqi has its own fleet of cars, which help it to provide a more consistent service. Chief executive officer Dong Wei has said Shouqi does not compete directly with other car-hailing platforms because it targets high-end customers.

Chinese ambition

Baidu's latest investment tallies with its auto-driving goal since Shouqi’s fleet of cars could provide it with a solid platform to trial its new driverless technologies.

The internet giant has also entered into a strategic partnership with state-owned automaker BAIC Group to develop self-driving buses. Earlier this year, the internet giant launched a $1.5 billion autonomous driving fund – known as the Apollo Fund – to invest in some 100 self-driving projects.

Baidu's ambitious targets are in line with China's desire to develop the world's first completely autonomous cars, ahead of the US and Europe.

Shouqi is raising capital not long after Beijing legalised online car-hailing business by offering licenses to eligible companies last year. Shouqi was the second car-hailing platform to be awarded a formal license to operate in the capital city. Its services are also approved in another 37 cities and districts.

Other investors in the series-B round include Silk Road Huachuang, Oceanwide Holdings, and Beijing Mingqi Management. The company is estimated to be worth more than $750 million.

Shouqi announced that it started its series-C round of funding immediately after closing the series B round.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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