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BYD, FAW seek to invest in DJI auto business in race for autonomous cars

BYD and FAW Group are aiming to invest in DJI’s automotive business unit – one of the few Chinese companies capable of developing partially automated driving software – as part of the latest effort by traditional automakers to catch up with rivals such as Tesla, local media has reported. 

Why it matters: The news comes at a time when a growing number of automakers and suppliers are expanding their alliances in hopes of accelerating progress in and sharing the cost of making partially automated driving passenger cars. In China, the technology is being popularized by the likes of Tesla, Huawei, and Xpeng Motors. 

  • It is also the latest example of Chinese auto majors taking steps to turn their business partnerships with tech companies into deeper capital relationships. Changan Automobile recently announced it will invest in a new venture set to absorb Huawei’s car business unit. 

Details: BYD and FAW, a manufacturing partner of Volkswagen and Toyota in China, recently conveyed their message to DJI Automotive, the car business unit of the namesake drone maker, 36Kr first reported on Wednesday (in Chinese). Citing people with knowledge of the matter, the report did not put a figure on the planned investment.

  • BYD is planning to roll out partially automated driving functions for future affordable models priced at RMB 200,000 ($27,920) or below in 2025 with assistance from DJI, a person close to the company told TechNode on Thursday. 
  • DJI is appealing to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for its low-cost advanced driver assistance system, as they have been struggling to lower costs and repeatedly cut prices of their cars, another source with direct knowledge of the matter told TechNode. 
  • DJI, China’s biggest drone maker, stated that its technology suite, including an affordable computing chip from Texas Instruments (TI) with only a few cameras, could enable cars with automatic lane changing and on-ramp to off-ramp functionalities on Chinese expressways. 
  • Some EV makers, including NIO and Li Auto, have developed similar functions based on Nvidia’s more expensive DRIVE Orin processors, with each offering 254 trillion operations per second (or TOPS), compared with the 32 TOPS offered by a top-end TDA4 chip from TI. 
  • “While BYD is not the forerunner in autonomous driving, it has the ability to be a fast follower which will likely meet the needs for the majority of Chinese consumers,” Bernstein analysts wrote in a Jan. 22 note, citing economies of scale, which allows it to collect more data for software training from its large fleet, as one of the reasons.
  • BYD and DJI did not respond to TechNode’s requests for comment. 

Context: Shenzhen-headquartered DJI separated its car business into an independent company in late 2022 and became open to external funding with a target valuation of $1.5 billion, Chinese media outlet Leiphone reported in August. 

  • The drone giant has worked with SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW), a General Motors China joint venture, since 2019, with the first model integrated with its automated driving technology, the Baojun Kiwi EV, going on sale with a price tag of RMB 102,800 in September 2022. 
  • BYD showcased a Yangwang luxury off-roader that integrates an unmanned aircraft on the car’s roof in a collaboration with DJI during a press event on Jan. 16. It also announced plans to release at least 10 new models this year featuring advanced driving technology.

READ MORE:  BYD’s Denza launches cheaper driver assistance system with Nvidia amid rising competition

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