Thursday, 2024 May 23

Volkswagen and Horizon Robotics make headway in self-driving joint venture

One year has passed since Volkswagen’s software subsidiary, Cariad, and Horizon Robotics announced their joint venture, and there is finally some notable progress.

This venture, privately referred to as “VW” within Horizon Robotics, aims to enhance Volkswagen’s capabilities in Level 2 assisted driving, high-speed navigation assistance, automatic parking, and more.

Volkswagen made a substantial investment of USD 2.4 billion and holds a controlling 60% stake in the joint venture. Insiders from Horizon Robotics have revealed that over a hundred employees from its internal software algorithm team will be transferred to the “VW” project, bringing around 300 members. Additionally, Horizon Robotics has appointed its co-founder and CTO, Huang Chang, to lead the joint venture.

36Kr reached out to Horizon Robotics for confirmation of the above information but had not received a response as of the time of writing.

In the Chinese market, intelligent driving has become a fiercely competitive arena, with automotive companies and suppliers scrambling to stay ahead. This trend contrasts with the pace of transformation in Europe, where automakers have been slow to change.

Volkswagen’s Cariad, grappling with a USD 2 billion loss last year, has entered a bitter price war with other electric carmakers, trailing behind Tesla and BYD in its largest market, China. In January this year, Volkswagen’s sales plummeted by 41%, accounting for 33% of the company’s worldwide sales. In response, it unveiled an “in China for China” strategy, doubling down on technology and software development for the Chinese market while seeking external support. This collaboration with Horizon Robotics is a key part of that effort.

In July this year, Volkswagen directly invested approximately USD 700 million to purchase a 4.99% stake in Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Motors. The aim is to jointly develop two models targeting China’s mid-sized car market, using Xpeng’s G9 vehicle platform, planned for production in 2026.

Given Volkswagen’s massive customer base, both Xpeng and Horizon Robotics are poised to become competitors behind the scenes. Volkswagen’s investment in Xpeng secures access to mature and validated intelligent driving technologies, including the G9 platform and high-definition maps for urban areas that are already in development.

In contrast, the collaboration between Volkswagen and Horizon Robotics is starting from scratch, with Horizon Robotics’ autonomous driving capabilities primarily focused on “highway Navigate on Autopilot” (NoA). According to Yu Kai, CEO of Horizon Robotics, the goal leading up to 2025 is to achieve smooth navigation functionalities in urban environments, encompassing highways and city streets.

Photo courtesy of Horizon Robotics

Horizon Robotics is reorganizing its resources to prioritize the development of advanced autonomous driving solutions. In addition to its partnership with Volkswagen, Horizon Robotics formed a joint venture with Chang’an Automobile in February this year, known as Changxian Zhineng.

Insiders have revealed to 36Kr that Horizon Robotics’ internal software algorithm team significantly outnumbers its hardware team, with the overall size of the former close to 3,000 members. This contrasts with the typical autonomous driving chip company, which typically has around 500–600 employees.

Furthermore, Horizon Robotics plans to delegate its smart cockpit business to its subsidiary. Preliminary plans include reallocating personnel working on voice and cockpit technologies to the subsidiary.

By reshuffling personnel, Horizon Robotics has the opportunity to adjust its business focus and concentrate on developing advanced self-driving features.

According to insiders, the highest volume of chips shipped by Horizon Robotics are its Journey 2 chips, followed by Journey 3 and Journey 5 variants. However, even the most advanced Journey 5 can only achieve high-speed NoA functionality, which is high-speed navigation assistance. For example, Li Auto’s Ideal ONE EV model, which was released earlier this year, features city NoA only on models equipped with Nvidia chips, and not on models that utilize Horizon Robotics’ Journey 5 chips. The same applies to Xpeng and NIO vehicle models that are designed to offer city NoA.

To address this, Horizon Robotics is currently developing its next-generation chip, Journey 6, to catch up. According to sources at 36Kr, Horizon Robotics is also actively recruiting for key positions in algorithm development for advanced assisted driving.

Integrated hardware and software solutions are a major trend for city NoA. Previously, Nvidia successfully poached Wu Xinzhou, the head of Xpeng’s autonomous driving team, to enhance its software algorithms. Autonomous driving software company Momenta is similarly preparing its own autonomous driving chip team.

With the joint venture, employee reshuffle, and resource reorganization now set in motion, Horizon Robotics can better focus on the development of advanced chips and algorithms for self-driving. For Horizon Robotics, the popularity of its Journey chips is only one step toward securing its place in the competitive market.

​​​​This article was originally written by Li Anqi for 36Kr.

KrASIA Connection
KrASIA Connection
KrASIA Connection features translated and adapted high-quality insights published on 36Kr.com, the largest and most influential technology portal in Chinese language with over 150 million readers across the globe.
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