Didi is rolling out electric cars custom-made for ride-hailing

Business & Technology

Electric and autonomous cars, ride-hailing, and boatloads of venture capital: The new car from BYD and Didi is associated with all the right buzzwords.

BYD’s new electric vehicle custom-built for ride-hailing companies. Image source: BYD.

Didi Chuxing, China’s leading on-demand transportation platform, has launched its model D1, an electric vehicle (EV) custom-built for ride-hailing services. 

  • Developed in conjunction with Warren Buffett–backed Chinese EV manufacturer BYD in a joint venture dubbed Meihao Chuxing, the project was initially announced in 2018, when Didi created an alliance with automakers such as Volkswagen and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi.

The new car already has a third-party customer: Ideanomics, a company founded by entrepreneur and veteran zeitgeist surfer Bruno Wu (吴征 Wú Zhēng), which says it invests in commercial electric vehicles adoption and fintech. 

  • Ideanomics has signed on to buy an initial 2,000 units, to be deployed to Didi’s leasing partners in cities across China starting in the first half of 2021.
  • It’s unclear exactly how the company plans to make money from the deal.  

Didi passengers will be able to use the ride-sharing app to hail the customized vehicles from their phones. 

  • The hatchback D1 has multiple safety features, including a monitoring system that utilizes facial and object recognition technology, emergency braking, lane departure warnings, and alerts about nearby pedestrians.
  • D1 vehicles will also be equipped with technology to facilitate driver verification, pickup and drop-off, and payment. 
  • The cars’ software will connect to a fleet management system that enables operators to oversee and optimize operations. 

Didi claims more than 550 million registered passengers, 31 million drivers, and more than 10 billion rides every year. Didi’s president, Jean Liu (柳青 Liǔ Qīng), believes this large user base gives the company valuable data insights when designing the vehicle.

Many automakers are choosing to test or launch new technology in China. 

  • Earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler was in talks with Foxconn to launch a joint venture developing EVs in China. In August, Volkswagen unveiled plans to test self-driving cars in Anhui Province. 
  • The launch of D1 can also be seen as another step forward in China’s greater plan to gradually phase out gas-powered vehicles. The announcement comes just weeks after China’s state planners predicted that electric vehicles will comprise half of all new cars sold in China by 2035. 
  • Well-funded startup WeRide also made headlines recently when it received a whopping $200 million investment from Chinese bus manufacturer Yutong to develop self-driving minibuses, which will be designed without steering wheels, accelerators, or brakes.

In 2020, the pandemic dealt Didi a blow when strict lockdown measures kept passengers at home. Didi has a current valuation of $62 billion.