“We are going to launch a robo-taxi service in Shanghai very soon,” Tiger Qie, Didi’s vice president and chief technology officer of its ride-sharing unit, said onstage at CNBC’s East Tech West event in Guangzhou, China. “The users can just hail self-driving vehicles through the Didi app.”
Qie told CNBC that having an autonomous fleet would help Didi meet the increasing demands for its ride-hailing services. It currently fills just 65 percent of requests. The robo-taxi addition would be a complement to its service, not a replacement.
“Autonomous vehicles and human-driven vehicles are going to co-exist,” Qie told the news outlet.
Founded in 2012, Didi has 550 million users after buying Uber China in 2016. It just expanded into Australia and Mexico and has plans to roll out in Costa Rica.
Popularity doesn’t mean profits, however. Didi lost $1.6 billion last year and has yet to turn a profit, an issue plaguing several ridesharing companies, including Uber and Lyft.
Qie noted that the U.S. ride-hailing market is “very different” compared to China, where it is not unusual for six people to share one car.
“We’re able to grow carpooling significantly while maintaining efficiency compared to our American peers,” Qie said.
Didi’s carpooling service Hitch is back in service with limited hours and new safety features after being shuttered last year following the rape and murder of a female passenger by a driver.
The firm subsequently suspended Hitch, but has since relaunched it in a public trial with improved safety features and a stricter driver and passenger verification process. Women can now use the service between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., while men could initially use it until 11 p.m.
Qie said the company revised the hours based on data; sex crimes go up 50 percent from 8 to 11 p.m.
Since then, the Hitch service has been made available to both men and women between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Didi is making headway ahead of Uber in Latin America and has captured about 30 percent of the market since launching in Mexico last year. Mexico is Didi’s biggest presence outside of China.