China could be the future for Mercedes-Benz • The Register

Autonomous driving research in China is getting a boost from Mercedes-Benz and Tencent, who on Monday announced a partnership that will involve building a joint autonomous driving research lab.

In a statement published on WeChat, Tencent announced that the pair will explore autonomous driving toolchains, verification services, and other autonomous vehicle technologies. Tencent said it has “rich experience and resource accumulation in autonomous driving,” and will also support Mercedes-Benz through cloud computing, big data, AI and safety technology.

according to dr Hans Georg Engel, Senior EVP at Daimler Greater China Investment Co, Mercedes-Benz has already “intensively developed and tested current and next-generation autonomous driving systems” in China.

In his WeChat post, Tencent quoted Engel as saying that Daimler’s future success in China depends on “deep insights into the complex local traffic conditions and market requirements.” This language reflects the phrasing used by the BMW Group when it announced a partnership with Tencent in 2019.

“The BMW Group will use it [Tencent’s] platform to develop automated driving technologies and products that meet complex local traffic conditions and local customer requirements,” BMW said at the time.

It’s no surprise that Tencent’s partnership announcements with Western automakers carry similar language: It has been trying for some time to become the company of choice for foreign automakers looking to enter China’s sizable electric vehicle market, CNBC reported in late June.

Of particular interest to CNBC was Tencent’s Intelligent Automobile Cloud (TIAC), which the company announced last month. Features included in TIAC include data storage that optimizes autonomous driving system training, social media interfaces and “all the technological aspects of an electric car,” CNBC reported.

The partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Tencent is not new either. The two have been working together since 2015, when the German company became the first luxury automaker to become a partner for Tencent’s My Car in-vehicle service.

The pair also teamed up last year to improve Mercedes-Benz vehicle security after security researchers from Tencent managed to exploit some vulnerabilities in the onboard MBUX infotainment system.

Outside of the partnership with Tencent, Mercedes-Benz opened its own research and development center in China in 2021, with Daimler Auto Group board member Markus Schäfer saying at the time China was at the heart of the automaker’s plans.

“When it comes to digitization, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving and cutting-edge computing, our R&D team in China plays an increasingly important role for us. This applies to technology development, but also to technology procurement, especially with regard to New Energy Vehicles (NEVs),” said Schäfer.

The specific plans of Mercedes-Benz and Tencent remain unknown, but Engel has given a clue to those who are curious. “Mercedes-Benz is the first automotive company in the world to meet the strict legal requirements for Level 3 conditionally autonomous driving systems,” said Engel.

Mercedes-Benz has previously partnered with Bosch to work on levels 4 and 5 of autonomous driving, which it says will be achieved within the next decade. The automaker has also pledged to go fully electric by 2030, and China accounted for half of global EV sales in 2021. No wonder Mercedes-Benz is looking east for its future. ® China could be the future for Mercedes-Benz • The Register

Chrissy Callahan

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