WeRide to fuel robotaxis with hydrogen in China

WeRide, one of the most well-funded robotaxi companies in China, announced that it is teaming up with Hyundai to establish a “self-driving hydrogen-powered car pilot zone” in Guangzhou, it’s a home city in the south. Investors in WeRide include the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

The partnership comes at a time when China, which has been working to decarbonize its economy, is placing more and more emphasis on clean hydrogen research and production.

There are few details in the announcement. It is unknown when the pilot will begin, how big the experiment will be, or what exactly will be propelled by hydrogen, one of the cleanest fuels because, when coupled with oxygen, it just produces water vapor and energy. However, given that Hyundai has staked a significant amount of money on the fuel, it won’t be unexpected to see unmanned hydrogen vehicles driving around the pilot zone.

WeRide, Hyundai, and Hengyun, a Chinese power generating and supply company, will collaborate to “generate demand for the usage of hydrogen fuel cell battery in robotic street cleaning and ride-hailing,” according to the release.

Hyundai announced its intention to provide hydrogen cell fuel variants for all of its commercial cars by 2028 in September of last year. The partnership with WeRide may allow its hydrogen products to be used in robotaxis. If there is sufficient refueling infrastructure, hydrogen-fueled vehicles can recharge in just a few minutes, making them the perfect choice for taxi operations.

Given that Hyundai has been producing hydrogen fuel cell systems in Guangzhou since March 2021, the city was an obvious candidate for the trial. The South Korean car giant set an annual aim of producing “6,500 units, with a desire to steadily grow manufacturing capacity in line with Chinese market conditions and central government policy,” when the factory first opened last year.

Public transportation in China has undergone significant electrification. Nearly all buses and taxis in Shenzhen, the world’s hardware capital, are powered by lithium-ion battery packs. Thanks to the program, the city is now quieter and has cleaner air, but battery safety and recycling are still major issues for the local government. Since it can take hours for lithium-ion batteries to fully recharge, long lineups frequently form at charging stations.