Waymo has set up a Chinese subsidiary to test and design its self-driving cars, in the latest attempt by Google’s parent company Alphabet to expand in a country that blocks most Google services.
Waymo, which leads the world race in designing autonomous cars, has registered a Shanghai subsidiary called Huimo Business Consulting, according to China’s official company filing records.
The subsidiary — registered on May 22 with capital of Rmb3.5bn ($510m) — is wholly foreign-owned and lists Waymo as its sole shareholder. Huimo’s directors include John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive, and Gerard Dwyer, chief financial officer.
The registration marks Waymo’s first entry into China amid a series of moves by Alphabet to increase its presence in the country.
Last week, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai acknowledged the company had been working on a relaunch of its search engine in China.
The need to highly censor its search results in China had caused internal outrage among staff. Google had pulled its search engine from China in 2010 after being subject to hacking and requests to increase censorship.
Waymo confirmed it had set up a legal entity in China and had people working there, but would not comment on its plans for the entity.
This year the cities of Beijing and Guangzhou started approving companies for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.
China’s growing autonomous driving industry is led by Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, whose open-source Apollo project has partnerships with dozens of foreign and domestic carmakers.
Among these, last month the German carmaker Daimler became the first foreign company to receive a licence to test highly automated self-driving cars on Beijing’s public roads.
However, foreign autonomous car companies have said they face more regulatory restrictions when testing their cars in China because of the government’s national security concerns.
Accurate GPS mapping in China can only be done by domestic companies, and autonomous driving requires highly detailed maps for navigation.
Analysts have said that Chinese regulators may be concerned that foreign self-driving cars, which require sophisticated sensors to track the road environment, could be used for spying. Baidu’s then-chief operating officer Qi Lu warned that self-driving cars could be used as “ weapons”.
Waymo’s Chinese competitors also include a cluster of fast-growing start-ups such as Nio, which is seeking $1.8bn in its initial public offering in New York.
Fellow rivals Pony.ai and Jingchi already have licences to test on California’s public roads, and were founded by former Baidu employees.
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