While Elon Musk was basking in the spotlight of his  Tesla Model 3 unveiling last week, several Chinese automotive companies were busy racing to beat the U.S. to develop driverless car technology.

Conditions in China could actually be better for swift adoption of driverless cars due to huge traffic jams in Chinese cities and government support in the form of research and development funding, the The New York Times reports. Research from the Boston Consulting Group also indicates that China will have the biggest market for driverless cars within the next 15 years.

Google's self-driving car chief Chris Urmson has set a goal of introducing an autonomous vehicle by 2019, but a handful of Chinese competitors are also hard at work chasing the same dream. Here are four companies in the race cited by the Times.

1. Leshi Internet Information & Technology (LeTV).

During the past two years, Chinese Internet company LeTV--often referred to as the "Netflix of China"--has expanded from a video site to a film production company to a maker of smart TV's and electric cars, the Wall Street Journal reports. Today, LeTV has its own driverless car tech division. LeTV also has a unique relationship with secretive electric car startup Faraday Future. LeTV's founder and CEO Jia Yueting is an in investor in Faraday, while Farday's CEO Chaoying Deng is the corporate director of LeTV's film division.   

2. Great Wall Motors.

The largest SUV manufacturer in China is understood to be working on driverless car technology from a research division based in Silicon Valley. Great Wall is also planning to expand its production line to include electric vehicles. Last year, the company announced a $2.7 billion fund for research and development of electric cars and "intelligent vehicles."

3. Baidu.

Thought to be the leader in the area of driverless car technology in China, Internet search company Baidu has been developing autonomous vehicles since 2013. Baidu is investing in patents and increasing testing to help develop the artificial intelligence needed for autonomous cars. Baidu CEO Robin Li recently told the Journal the company is conducting tests on a number of driverless car models.

4. Uisee Technology.

Co-founded by Gansha Wu, the former director of Intel Labs China, Uisee is planning to make a demonstration of its driverless car product at the 2017 annual CES tech trade show in Las Vegas. Wu, who co-founded the company with four colleagues last year, has assembled an "unusual collection of supertalent," Kai-Fu Lee, the former head of Google in China told the Times. He said the startup's team includes a mechanical expert, a top machine learning specialist from Google, and a number of semiconductor experts.

Not every major car manufacturer is convinced that fully autonomous cars are coming even in the next decade, however. Toyota, for example, is interested more in pursuing features like emergency breaking, according to the Times, a form of artificial intelligence that can assist drivers without taking complete driving control.


Published on: Apr 6, 2016