Waymo, a leading player in the global race to develop driverless cars, opened an office in Shanghai’s free trade zone, according to a filing with China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System, a business-registration website.
The new subsidiary, with 3.5 million yuan ($508,000) in registered capital, will design and test autonomous vehicle products and parts and may also handle business consultancy and supply chain management and logistics inquiries, the filing said.
The filing listed Waymo LLC as the only shareholder of the Shanghai subsidiary. Kevin Vosen, Waymo’s general counsel, is listed as chairman of the new company. Waymo executives including Chief Executive
are also listed as senior representatives of the Chinese company.
Waymo representatives couldn’t be reached for comment. The filing was dated May 22, but was first disclosed this week by a Shanghai-based state media outlet.
Both China and Waymo stand to benefit from the company’s entry into the market, said Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai consultancy Automotive Foresight.
Many Chinese car makers are small and don’t have the resources to develop autonomous driving systems on their own, he said, while larger players will be forced to keep pace with Waymo. For Waymo, the attraction is clear: China is the world’s largest auto market.
“If you want to provide autonomous car services,” Mr. Zhang said, “it is…the most important market.”
There has been speculation about Waymo establishing a presence since July, when Shanghai government officials paid visits to several prominent U.S. tech firms in Silicon Valley, including Google and
. They invited executives to take part in an artificial intelligence conference hosted by the city and to expand operations there.
Under Chief Executive
Google has been working to expand its China presence eight years after it abandoned the world’s largest internet market over concerns about government censorship of internet content and the alleged hacking of its Gmail email accounts.
Waymo’s entry is the latest in a series of new China initiatives by units of Mountain View, Calif.-based Alphabet, including the launch of an AI research lab in Beijing by Google last year.
Most recently, Google tested a project dubbed “Dragonfly,” a mobile version of its search engine that would adhere to the will of China’s strict censors, people familiar with the matter said. But launching a search engine hinges on the approval of Chinese authorities and the plan has faced internal resistance at Google.
Waymo faces powerful local opposition from
the dominant Chinese search-engine company that has staked its future on autonomous vehicles. Last year, the central government in Beijing said Baidu is a national champion in self-driving initiatives.
Self-driving cars also rely on high-definition mapping, which is strictly controlled in China. The only companies licensed to provide advanced mapping technology are Chinese, including Baidu,
Alibaba and Tencent are separately backing other Chinese autonomous driving projects.
Waymo will also have to obtain a license for testing its automated vehicles in China, where Chinese road conditions are more complicated than in the U.S., with more pedestrians and electric bicycles. China started issuing self-driving road testing licenses to companies this year;
were the only foreign auto makers approved.
contributed to this article.
Write to Liza Lin at [email protected]