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Renault Launches Driverless Testing Site in China

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【Summary】The European automaker chose the city of Wuhan (capital of Hubei province) for the project, which is also the most populated city in Central China.

Original Michael Cheng    Dec 29, 2016 5:59 AM PT
Renault Launches Driverless Testing Site in China

At the nascent stage of development in the self-driving car sector, automakers are racing to setup testing grounds in major cities around the world. In Europe, Norway recently announced it is opening its doors to mature driverless systems and developers as early as mid-2017. In Asia, French car manufacturer Renault revealed a new project that aims to establish an experimental testing site in China.

The European automaker chose the city of Wuhan (capital of Hubei province) for the project, which is also the most populated city in Central China. The location boasts a developed transportation system, consisting of expressways, long roads and traditional railway networks. Some foreign sources refer to the city as the "Chicago of China" due to its leading role in domestic transportation.

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Humble Beginnings

Renault won't be making full use of Wuhan's robust transportation network – at least not yet. The company will limit its pilot program to a two-kilometer strip next to a lake in the Sino-French Wuhan Ecological Demonstration. Developers will monitor their driverless prototypes on the short road, which will include an electric autonomous driving (AD) car (SAE level unknown). The automaker welcomes visitors and anyone who is interested in the technology to the testing site. Renault will likely use this opportunity to increase awareness for the project. 

"Studies show EVs will account for two-thirds of all cars on the road by 2030 in the most densely populated, high income cities. The rapidly declining cost of batteries, improving driving range and an expanding charging infrastructure are all factors," explained Renault-Nissan CEO Carls Ghosn.

The business did not venture into the country alone. Through a Sino-French joint venture that includes Dongfeng Renault Automotive Company (DRAC) and Wuhan Caidian Ecological Development Group, Renault was able to streamline its goals in the city. The three parties signed an agreement that elaborates their respective roles in the project. In the venture, the European car manufacturer will provide construction services and the vehicles equipped with driverless systems.

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Next-generation EVs

If all goes smoothly in Wuhan, the company could install its self-driving platform in its flagship products by 2020. Based on the description of being "able to take advantage of in-car connectivity safely when conditions and the law permit" the cars that will receive the technology won't be fully autonomous (most likely semi-autonomous).

Renault has special cars lined up for China-based consumers. Earlier this month, the group confirmed plans of launching a budget-friendly EV specifically for China. The most attractive aspect of the sustainable car is its $8,000 price tag. So far, production has not officially started for the model. Company representatives verified that the vessel will not be sold outside of the country and the units will be capable of driving on highways.

"Renault is using its extensive EV know-how to develop an inexpensive electric model aimed at the rapidly expanding Chinese sector. We are at a turning point where EVs are becoming a viable option to more and more drivers. If we get it right, this could improve the quality of daily life for billions of people," said a Renault spokesman.

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