Elon Musk proposed to launch robotaxis in China during April visit, state media report says

FILE PHOTO: Tesla showroom in Beijing
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BEIJING (Reuters) -Elon Musk proposed testing Tesla's advanced driver-assistance package in China by deploying it in robotaxis, during his recent visit to the country, the state-backed China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing sources.

Chinese officials told the Tesla CEO that China "welcomes Tesla to do some robotaxi tests in the country" and hopes it can "set a good example", the newspaper quoted the sources as saying.

However, Chinese authorities did not immediately approve its widespread use of Full Self-Driving (FSD) functions, the newspaper added.

Before the full rollout of its FSD functions, Tesla still needs to get approval to collect and transfer data that Tesla's cars need to train its driver-assistance features. The newspaper added that this issue wasn't discussed in detail during Musk's visit.

A person briefed on the matter told Reuters that Tesla is seeking to apply to launch the robotaxi tests in Shanghai, where the company's largest factory globally is located.

Tesla and the Shanghai city government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The China Daily report comes shortly after Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a whirlwind weekend trip to Beijing late last month, where he met Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

Musk on the trip intended to discuss the rollout of FSD and whether Tesla could secure government approvals to transfer data overseas that could prove pivotal in its development of autonomous vehicles, Reuters previously reported.

FSD is the most autonomous version of Autopilot software and was rolled out in 2020. Its features include self-parking, auto lane changes and traffic navigation.

Among the wins during Musk's trip, which was first reported by Reuters, was a key endorsement from a top Chinese auto association that said Tesla's Model 3 and Y cars were compliant with data-security regulations. That would enable local governments to allow Tesla cars into parts of China they were previously barred from, Chinese media reported, citing a statement from Tesla.

Tesla has also reached an agreement with Baidu to use the Chinese tech giant's mapping license for data collection on China's public roads, according to two people who at the time described that as a step toward FSD rollout in China.

The China Daily newspaper, however, citing a source close to Baidu, said that the deal only meant that the accuracy of Baidu's maps provided to Tesla would be improved and that it had no direct relation with FSD.

Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk has abandoned a longstanding goal for Tesla to make affordable electric cars for the masses and is looking to focus on autonomous driving software, robotaxis and its humanoid robot Optimus.

Last month, the company mentioned a "purpose-built robotaxi product" that it planned to build with a "revolutionary" manufacturing process, without offering a timeline for its release.

China has been at the forefront in the development of self-driving cars, and companies such as Baidu and Toyota-backed Pony.ai have launched robotaxi services in limited test zones in several cities.

(Reporting by Zhang Yan, Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Sonali Paul)