Ford’s China Partner to Send Driverless Car on 1,200-Mile Test

March 31, 2016

Changan Automobile Group, Ford Motor Co.’s partner in China, plans to send a self-driving test car on a 1,200-mile road trip next month, underscoring its ambitions to produce highly automated vehicles by 2020.

The car will depart Chongqing and arrive in Beijing – roughly the equivalent of driving from New York to Kansas City – in time for when the Chinese capital hosts its auto show next month, according to Xu Liuping, Changan’s chairman and Communist Party secretary of the state-owned carmaker. The company will showcase a self-driving model at the exhibition, which takes place in Beijing this year in the world’s largest auto market.

Changan joins BAIC Group and Internet giant Baidu Inc. among Chinese companies competing in the global race to develop cars that can pilot themselves with minimal or no human intervention. For China, the push for self-driving vehicles is also part of a broader state initiative urging manufacturers to upgrade their technology as lower-cost countries emerge and compete for labor-intensive factory jobs.

“Alternative energy, artificial intelligence and the Internet are the three new technologies reshaping the global auto industry and that poses both opportunity and a tough test,” Xu said in an e-mail. “We are currently working together with some distinguished companies, organizations and tertiary institutions on autonomous-car development and research. The partnerships will continue to strengthen and broaden in the future.”

Changan sold more than 1 million of its own-brand cars for the first time last year. It’s raised the average selling price for Changan-badge vehicles by about 10 percent per year since 2008, even as more discounting leads industry margins to contract, according to Xu.

Even so, shares of Chongqing Changan Automobile Co., the publicly-traded unit of Changan group, plunged 56 percent over a four-month period to a trough in August, as a stock-market rout wiped out billions of dollars in market value. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index declined 34 percent in the same period.

“There’s a gap between Changan’s operational results, growth potential and the low share valuation,” Xu said. “We hope and believe that Changan will receive better recognition from the market in the future.”

To speed up its expansion, Changan also aims to start production in overseas markets such as Russia, India and Brazil, according to Xu. The company is open to working with Tesla Motors Co. if it’s interested in partnering to manufacture in China, he said.

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