WeRide Zooms into the Global Autonomous Vehicle Industry


By: Lin Liu / On: May 29, 2024

WeRide Zooms into the Global Autonomous Vehicle Industry
Image: Petr Kratochvil, Busy Road Light Trails (Publicomainpictures.net)

Build Your Dreams (“BYD”)’s accomplishment of selling more electric vehicles than Tesla in late 2023 has put the Chinese automaker’s moves in 2024 under the spotlight.1  After announcing that it has licenses to test Level-3 (i.e., “conditional automation”2) autonomous driving (“AD”) on high-speed roads in China,3 BYD’s ambition to move into the autonomous vehicle industry has become clear.  However, BYD’s path to success in this industry is unlikely to be smooth because of competition from competitors, including WeRide (文远知行), a forerunner with a strong foundation in the industry.

WeRide began its journey in Silicon Valley in 2017.4  A few months after its establishment in California, WeRide moved its headquarters to Guangzhou, the capital city of China’s Guangdong Province, whose GDP reached nearly USD 2 trillion in 2023, the highest in the country.5  To date, WeRide’s AD technology has reached Level-4 (i.e., “high driving automation”), merely one grade below Level-5, which indicates “full driving automation”.6  Equipped with such advanced technology, WeRide has put into operation multiple innovative products, including Robotaxis, Robobuses, Robovans, Robosweepers, and an advanced driving system named WePilot. 

“WeRide’s lead in this pioneering industry is largely due to its ability to obtain an impressive number of licenses from multiple cities in China and a few other countries to conduct AD testing and to launch related commercial operations.”

WeRide’s lead in this pioneering industry is largely due to its ability to obtain an impressive number of licenses from multiple cities in China and a few other countries to conduct AD testing and to launch related commercial operations.  What factors contribute to WeRide’s success in obtaining these licenses?  How has WeRide leveraged this success to expand its operations inside and outside China?

Impressive Licenses

Acquisition of official licenses to conduct road testing and related operations is the prerequisite for any company to run an AD business.  Clearly understanding the importance of this prerequisite, WeRide has obtained licenses to either conduct AD testing and demonstration operations or implement commercial pilot projects in nearly 20 Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Ordos, Qingdao, Shenzhen, and Wuxi.

Apollo and AutoX are WeRide’s key competitors.7  Apollo was founded by Baidu, Inc., which began developing autonomous technology in 2013.8  Apollo has obtained more than 10 licenses similar to those received by WeRide to develop its business in Chinese cities such as Beijing, Changsha, Chongqing, Hefei, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Wuzhen, and Yangquan.  Founded in Shenzhen in 2016 by Jianxiong Xiao, a self-driving scientist from MIT and a former director of the Princeton Computer Vision and Robotics Labs, AutoX has nearly ten such licenses, covering Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.9

Outside China, WeRide, Apollo, and AutoX have licenses to conduct AD testing in California.  However, WeRide stands out because it has received the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”)’s first national license to conduct AD testing10 as well as special licenses named the “Milestone Testing Regime Level 1 License for Autonomous Vehicles on Public Roads” and the “T1 Assessment License for Autonomous Vehicles on Public Paths” from Singapore.11  WeRide has underscored this achievement by identifying itself as “the first and, to date, the only technology company globally to simultaneously hold autonomous driving permits in China, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore”.12

Strategic and Financial Investors Make a Difference

“WeRide’s accomplishment of obtaining these impressive licenses is largely a result of the support that the company has received from its strategic and financial investors.”

WeRide’s accomplishment of obtaining these impressive licenses is largely a result of the support that the company has received from its strategic and financial investors.13

Unlike Apollo, which is wholly owned by Baidu, Inc., and AutoX, which has merely two strategic investors14 and ten financial investors15, WeRide has nearly 40 strategic and financial investors, many of whom are state-owned enterprises in China or other companies having strong influence inside and outside China (see Table).  These investors can leverage their own political and financial strengths to help WeRide secure licenses.

Table: WeRide’s Strategic & Financial Investors

Inside ChinaOutside China
Strategic Investors
  • Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. (state-owned)
  • Johnson Electric Holdings Limited
  • Yutong Bus Co., Ltd.
  • Nvidia Corporation (United States)
  • Robert Bosch GmbH  (Germany)
  • SMRT Corporation Ltd. (Singapore)
  • The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance (European Union)
Financial Investors
  • Agricultural Bank of China (state-owned)
  • China Development Bank (state-owned)
  • China Structural Reform Fund Corporation Limited (state-owned)
  • Guangdong Hengjian Investment Holdings Co., Ltd. (state-owned)
  • Guangzhou Yuexiu Industrial Investment Fund Management Co., Ltd. (state-owned)
  • Guokai Equipment Manufacturing Industry Investment Fund Co., Ltd. (state-owned)
  • Suzhou Oriza Holdings Corporation (state-owned)
  • Others: 16 private equity/venture capitalist investors, including Qiming Venture Partners
  • IDG Capital (United States)
  • Idinvest Partners (France)
  • K3 Ventures (Singapore)
  • Mubadala Investment Company (United Arab Emirates)
  • OceanIQ Capital (United States)
  • The Carlyle Group, Inc. (United States)

In China, for example, having nearly ten state-owned enterprises, including Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd., as strategic and financial investors allows WeRide to fully understand national and local governments’ strategic needs and adapt its business and technology accordingly.  With such adaptations in place, the automaker is able to meet all the government requirements quite easily when applying for licenses to conduct AD testing and demonstration operations.

The positive impact of having influential foreign investors on board is best reflected in how WeRide outperformed its competitors to secure licenses from the UAE and Singapore.  In the case of the UAE, after raising funds from Mubadala Investment Company, the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, in 2022,16 WeRide experienced rapid developments in the UAE.  In March 2023, WeRide formally established its presence in Abu Dhabi’s China-UAE Industrial Capacity Cooperation Demonstration Zone by forming a local team to “accelerate the commercialization of autonomous driving technology in the UAE region”.17  Four months later, in July 2023, WeRide received the UAE’s first national license to test in the country “all types of self-driving vehicles”, meaning that the company is authorized to test its products such as Robotaxis, Robobuses, Robovans, and Robosweepers in the UAE.18

WeRide’s progress in Singapore is also impressive and closely related to its investors from the country.  After receiving investment funds from SMRT Corporation Ltd. (“SMRT”), Singapore’s largest public transport service provider, and K3 Ventures, a Singaporean investment company, WeRide quickly established in September 2022 an office in Singapore and signed in November 2022 a memorandum of cooperation with Strides, a subsidiary of SMRT.19  The following year, in just three months after its first testing in Singapore, WeRide managed to complete all the stringent procedures and obtained the above-mentioned two licenses from Singaporean authorities.20

Ultimately, WeRide’s ability to win the support of these significant Chinese and foreign investors reflects these investors’ appreciation of the management team’s understanding of how technology, operation, and policy are interconnected and interdependent.  As explained by Hua Zhong, Senior Vice President of Engineering of WeRide:21

Technology is the foundation.  Meanwhile[,] commercialization does not happen overnight, operation needs to be planned and rolled out from early on and sustained.  True driverless operation needs related policies in place [and these policies] require [that] the technology and operation are ready.  So[,] now we are promoting these three at the same time.

[emphasis added]

Operations Inside & Outside China

“[…] to expand its operations inside and outside China, WeRide has leveraged the strengths of its investors, especially strategic investors because of their strong positions in industries closely related to the autonomous vehicle industry.”

A close examination of WeRide’s operations reveals how the company has been following the management team’s Technology-Operation-Policy approach to develop these operations while, at the same time, improving its technology and seeking policy support from governments.  In addition, to expand its operations inside and outside China, WeRide has leveraged the strengths of its investors, especially strategic investors because of their strong positions in industries closely related to the autonomous vehicle industry.

1. Inside China

Three examples illustrate how WeRide has effectively engaged its strategic investors—Nvidia, Guangzhou Automobile Group, and Yutong Bus (see Table) —in its operations in China.

  • Nvidia: Since its establishment in 2017, WeRide has been developing its AD technology on Nvidia’s compute platform22 to build various products, including Robotaxis, Robovans, and Robosweepers.  For example, Robosweepers are designed to have the capacity to clean urban streets in low-visibility conditions (e.g., early mornings and late evenings) without human drivers.  During the cleaning process, Robosweepers rely on Nvidia’s compute platform to process massive amounts of data so as to accurately and speedily detect and classify objects on the roads.23
  • Guangzhou Automobile Group: In 2018, with the participation of Guangzhou Automobile Group, a state-owned enterprise owned by the government of Guangzhou City, where WeRide is headquartered, WeRide began manufacturing Robotaxis.24  The following year, WeRide was able to launch Robotaxi services in Guangzhou, together with a key collaborator, Guangzhou Baiyun Taxi Group, which is also owned by the government of Guangzhou City.25
  • Yutong Bus: After raising USD 200 million from Yutong Bus in 2020,26 WeRide leveraged this strategic investor’s strengths in producing electric vehicles in 2021 to design Robobuses, which are the world’s first self-driving minibuses potentially suitable for mass production.  In 2022, a fleet of Robobuses was launched to support travel services.27

Apparently, these operations, the parties involved, and WeRide’s strong team of strategic and financial investors have strengthened the company’s position in its pursuit of establishing more Chinese operations with other government-backed entities or influential private companies.  These additional operations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • the commercialization of Robovans to facilitate the delivery of cargos in cities (key collaborator: Jiangling Motors Corporation-Ford Motors, which is jointly owned by Ford and Jiangling Motors Corporation (invested by the government of Jiangxi Province));28
  • the creation of China’s first city-level, comprehensive AD operation platform for public transportation in Wuxi (key collaborator: Zhihui Transportation Technology Co., Ltd., which is owned by the government of Wuxi City);29 and
  • the operation of Robobuses in designated areas, such as the Jiaodong Airport Economic Demonstration Zone, in Qingdao (key collaborator:  Qingdao Urban Transport Group, which is owned by the government of Qingdao City)30 and in certain districts in Ordos (key collaborator: Ordos New Energy Development and Utilization Co., Ltd., which is owned by the government of Ordos City).31

2. Outside China

WeRide’s operations outside China have been primarily focused on Singapore and the Middle East.

In Singapore, apart from collaborating with Strides, a subsidiary of SMRT, to conduct testing and operation of AD vehicles, WeRide has expanded its cooperation network in the country by reaching strategic cooperation agreements with two local companies, Woodlands Transport Services and EZ Buzz.32

In the UAE, prior to the acquisition of the country’s license, WeRide already began working with Bayanat, a UAE-based AI company, to provide it with operating and monitoring support to facilitate the testing of driverless taxis in Yas Island.33  With the national license, WeRide is expected to work closely with the RegLab, an initiative established by the General Secretariat of the Cabinet to oversee WeRide’s testing processes.34  This close working relationship places WeRide in a position superior to its competitors because WeRide has more opportunities to secure policy support while the UAE is still exploring regulatory requirements for autonomous vehicle deployment in the country.

WeRide’s success in the UAE seems to have enhanced its presence in Saudi Arabia, where the company worked with Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence (owned by Saudi Arabia) to launch the country’s first “dynamic display route” of Robobuses at the 2022 Global AI Summit held in Riyadh.35  In addition, during the first China-Arab States Expo and the China-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit held in December 2022, WeRide signed a memorandum of cooperation with Ajlan & Brothers Holding Group to jointly promote AD vehicles in Saudi Arabia.36

In summary, the tremendous support from its strategic and financial investors has empowered WeRide to form strong collaborations with select investors and related partners.

Concluding Remarks

The above analysis shows that apart from its leading technology, WeRide’s recipe of success has two key ingredients.  First, WeRide’s ability to leverage support from its strategic and financial investors to form strong relationships with local and national governments inside and outside China.  These governments’ support is the prerequisite for developing a high-tech business that is full of regulatory uncertainties.  Second, WeRide’s excellent collaborations with select investors and other partners allow WeRide to take the company’s innovative products to an unrivaled level; these products, in turn, help attract more support from governments, investors, and prospective collaborators.

WeRide’s recipe of success reflects very well the company’s strategic goals, as explained by Tony Han, CEO of WeRide:37

We will not simply open offices in random cities.  Each decision has to support the company’s strategic goals.  By taking advantage of local resources, we are able to accelerate the commercialization of autonomous driving.

[emphasis added]

To date, WeRide has demonstrated impressive progress.  Its recipe of success will be put to the test in the coming years, when WeRide will face more regulatory changes and fierce competition around the world.  If WeRide can weather the storm and continue to outperform its competitors, including BYD, its success story may become a useful reference for not only AD technology companies but also companies building their businesses in other cutting-edge technologies.

  • The citation of this article is: Lin Liu, WeRide Zooms into the Global Autonomous Vehicle Industry, SINOTALKS.COM®, SinoForum&Foresight™, May 29, 2024,
    The original, English version of this article was edited by Nathan Harpainter and Dr. Mei Gechlik.  The information and views set out in this article are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the work or views of SINOTALKS®. ↩︎
  1. See, e.g., Peter Hoskins & Natalie Sherman, China’s BYD Overtakes Tesla’s Electric Car Sales in Last Quarter of 2023, BBC News, Jan. 2, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-67860232. ↩︎
  2. For a brief discussion of the six levels of autonomous driving, see Jan Wienrich, Autonomous Driving: The Steps to Self-Driving Vehicles, ZF, https://www.zf.com/mobile/en/technologies/autonomous_driving/stories/6_levels_of_automated_driving.html. ↩︎
  3. See, e.g., BYD Has Obtained Conditional Testing License for Level 3 Autonomous Driving on High-Speed Roads, Reuters, Dec. 26, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/byd-has-obtained-conditional-testing-license-level-3-autonomous-driving-high-2023-12-27. ↩︎
  4. Unless stated otherwise, the information about WeRide included in this article is based on WeRide’s official website, https://www.weride.ai, and the author’s meetings with specialists who are familiar with the autonomous vehicle industry in China but spoke on condition of anonymity. ↩︎
  5. See, e.g., GDP of China’s Guangdong Surpasses 13 Trillion Yuan in 2023, Xinhua, Jan. 23, 2024, https://english.www.gov.cn/archive/statistics/202401/23/content_WS65afa03cc6d0868f4e8e36a3.html. ↩︎
  6. Jan Wienrich, supra note 2. ↩︎
  7. See e.g., Guidehouse Insights Leaderboard: Automated Driving Systems: Assessment of Strategy and Execution for 18 Companies Developing Automated Driving Systems, Guidehouse Insights, Feb. 2023, https://guidehouseinsights.com/reports/guidehouse-insights-leaderboard-automated-driving-systems. ↩︎
  8. The information about Apollo included in this article is based on Apollo’s official website, https://en.apollo.auto, and the author’s meetings with specialists who are familiar with the autonomous vehicle industry in China but spoke on condition of anonymity. ↩︎
  9. The information about AutoX included in this article is based on AutoX’s official website, https://www.autox.ai, and the author’s meetings with specialists who are familiar with the autonomous vehicle industry in China but spoke on condition of anonymity. ↩︎
  10. See, e.g., UAE Cabinet Approves Ministry of Investment Establishment and First National License for Self-Driving Vehicles, UAE BARQ, July 3, 2023, https://www.uaebarq.ae/en/2023/07/03/uae-cabinet-approves-ministry-of-investment-establishment-and-first-national-license-for-self-driving-vehicles. ↩︎
  11. See, e.g., WeRide Obtains Singapore M1 and T1 Autonomous Vehicles Licenses, S&P Global AutoTechInsight, Dec. 12, 2023, https://autotechinsight.ihsmarkit.com/news/5273513/weride-obtains-singapore-m1-and-t1-autonomous-vehicles-licenses. ↩︎
  12. WeRide, A New Milestone! WeRide Obtained the Singapore M1 and T1 Autonomous Vehicles Licenses, Dec. 11, 2023, https://www.weride.ai/posts/107. ↩︎
  13. Strategic investors invest in a company primarily for strategic benefits to improve the investors’ own operations and future growth.  As such, strategic investors are often in the same industry as the company receiving the investment or related industries.  Financial investors primarily focus on financial returns and typically cover private equity firms, venture capital firms, family offices, and other sources of funds.  See e.g., Strategic Investor Definition, invstor.com, https://www.invstor.com/information/go-big-dictionary/strategic-investor-definition. ↩︎
  14. AutoX’s two strategic investors are: Dongfeng Motor Corporation Ltd. and SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, both of which are state-own enterprises in China. ↩︎
  15. AutoX’s ten financial investors consist of seven mainland Chinese companies: (i.e., Alibaba Group Holding Limited, Capital Today, Chaoshan Capital, Jumbo Sheen Group, Plug and Play China, Renzhi Capital, and Zhen Fund), two Hong Kong companies (i.e., Creo Capital and HKSTP Ventures), one Taiwan company (i.e., MediaTek Inc.), and one U.S. company (i.e., DHVC). ↩︎
  16. See e.g., Aarti Nagraj, China’s WeRide Planning Hundreds of Autonomous Vehicles on UAE Roads by 2025, The National, July 24, 2023, https://www.thenationalnews.com/business/technology/2023/07/24/chinas-weride-planning-hundreds-of-autonomous-vehicles-on-uae-roads-by-2025. ↩︎
  17. WeRide, UAE Grants First National License for Self-Driving Cars to WeRide, July 3, 2023, https://www.weride.ai/posts/75. ↩︎
  18. See, e.g., UAE Cabinet Approves Ministry of Investment Establishment and First National License for Self-Driving Vehicles, supra note 10. ↩︎
  19. WeRide, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Took a Ride in WeRide’s Robobus as His First Stop in China, Mar. 27, 2023, https://www.weride.ai/posts/22. ↩︎
  20. WeRide, A New Milestone! WeRide Obtained the Singapore M1 and T1 Autonomous Vehicles Licenses, supra note 12. ↩︎
  21. WeRide, What are the Winning Barriers to Self-Driving Competition amid Critical Stage?, Medium, Apr. 24, 2020, https://werideai.medium.com/what-are-the-winning-barriers-to-self-driving-competition-amid-critical-stage-200df870d638. ↩︎
  22. For a brief explanation of compute platforms, see What is a Compute Platform?, HPE Glossary, https://www.hpe.com/us/en/what-is/compute-platforms.html. ↩︎
  23. See e.g., Katie Burke, Broom, Broom: WeRide Revs Up Self-Driving Street Sweepers Powered by NVIDIA, NVIDIA, May 13, 2022, https://blogs.nvidia.com/blog/weride-autonomous-street-sweepers. ↩︎
  24. WeRide, WeRide Announces Strategic Cooperation on Robotaxi Commercialization with Car Maker GAC Group and Mobility Platform ONTIME, Medium, Nov. 18, 2021, https://werideai.medium.com/weride-announces-strategic-cooperation-on-robotaxi-commercialization-d9ed3626d3f8. ↩︎
  25. WeRide, WeRide Initiates Strategic Partnership to Build Robotaxi Service as Part of Its Mobility Blueprint, Medium, Mar. 9, 2020, https://werideai.medium.com/weride-launched-a-joint-venture-to-build-robo-taxi-service-cb0504ce7d10. ↩︎
  26. WeRide, WeRide Raises $200 Million from Yutong Group’s Strategic Investment in Series B1 Funding, Medium, Dec. 22, 2020, https://werideai.medium.com/weride-raises-200-million-from-yutong-groups-strategic-investment-in-series-b1-funding-a1543efe0839. ↩︎
  27. WeRide, WeRide Launches Fully Driverless Robobus Service to the Public, Medium, Jan. 7, 2022, https://werideai.medium.com/weride-launches-fully-driverless-robobus-service-to-the-public-6d6bab0c0a0e. ↩︎
  28. See e.g., Rebecca Bellan, China’s WeRide Unveils Robovan, Its First Electric, Autonomous Cargo Van, Tech Crunch, Sept. 8, 2021, https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/08/weride-jiangling-motors-and-zto-express-unveil-robovan-an-autonomous-cargo-van. ↩︎
  29. See e.g., WeRide Sets Up East China Headquarters in Wuxi, Building Full-City Autonomous Transportation Platform, Gasgoo, Sept. 27, 2022, https://autonews.gasgoo.com/m/70021405.html. ↩︎
  30. See e.g., WeRide Launches Self-Driving Robobus in Qingdao, Gasgoo, Dec. 14, 2023, https://autonews.gasgoo.com/m/70030076.html. ↩︎
  31. WeRide, First in Inner Mongolia! WeRide’s Robotaxis Started Operation in Ordos, Medium, Nov. 23, 2023, https://werideai.medium.com/first-in-inner-mongolia-werides-robotaxis-started-operation-in-ordos-be1067f102d4. ↩︎
  32. WeRide, A New Milestone! WeRide Obtained the Singapore M1 and T1 Autonomous Vehicles Licenses, supra note 12. ↩︎
  33. See e.g., Deepthi Nair, UAE’s First Driverless Taxi Completes Initial Trial Phase, The National, Jan. 31, 2022, https://www.thenationalnews.com/business/2022/01/31/uaes-first-driverless-taxi-completes-initial-phase-of-trials. ↩︎
  34. See e.g., Sarika Parmar, China Autonomous Driving Company WeRide Secures Self-Driving Vehicle License from UAE, StartupNews, July 5, 2023, https://startupnews.fyi/2023/07/05/china-autonomous-driving-company-weride-secures-self-driving-vehicle-license-from-uae. ↩︎
  35. WeRide, WeRide Launches the First Self-Driving Robobus Test Ride in Saudi Arabia at 2022 Global AI Summit, Medium, Sept. 18, 2022, https://werideai.medium.com/weride-launches-the-first-self-driving-robobus-test-ride-in-saudi-arabia-at-2022-global-ai-summit-4235d77ceec5. ↩︎
  36. WeRide, UAE Grants First National License for Self-Driving Cars to WeRide, supra note 17. ↩︎
  37. WeRide, WeRide CEO Tony Han “Committed to Long-Term Strategy in Autonomous Driving”, Medium, Feb. 11, 2021, https://werideai.medium.com/weride-ceo-tony-han-committed-to-long-term-strategy-in-autonomous-driving-7037eb838cd3. ↩︎