Chinese electric car startup CHJ Automotive will build up a strong research and development team in the United States by the end of this year to beef up work on self-driving technologies, company CEO Li Xiang said on Tuesday.
The plan came shortly after CHJ raised 3 billion yuan (477 million U.S. dollars) in its series B round of fundraising in March and announced plans to set up a joint venture with Didi Chuxing, China's largest ride-hailing company, to produce smart electric cars.
"We will have a relatively big R&D team in the US by the year-end. Building a platform to support autonomous driving will almost be as difficult as building a platform to support search engine services. We need to tap into the best talents," Li said at the sidelines of the ongoing Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018 on Tuesday.
The company is one of a growing number of players to march into the burgeoning smart vehicle market, motivated by favorable government policies and local consumers' growing demand.
Li, the serial entrepreneur who also founded the country's largest auto news portal Autohome, said CHJ has two approaches when it comes to smart EVs.
"Firstly, we will build tailor-made EVs for Didi Chuxing's platform, which will have features that make ride-hailing services more convenient and help Didi lower the cost of maintaining a stable supply of cars on its platform," Li said.
A tailor-made car, coupled with efficient operation, can help Didi lower ride-hailing services' cost per kilometer by as much as one third.
Didi's founder and CEO Cheng Wei said in November that the company wants to have 1 million new energy cars on its platform by 2020, up from the current number of 260,000 such vehicles.
Also, CHJ will unveil its self-branded large sports utility vehicle in the second half of this year; the vehicle will feature super-long mileage.
"Mileage anxiety and safety are still the top concerns that dissuade potential customers. We devote tons of resources to solving this problem. Our new car can be able to travel farther than gasoline-powered vehicles," Li added.
The company has an auto factory in Changzhou, Jiangsu province, where the production capacity will hit 200,000 vehicles a year when completed.
China overtook the United States in 2015 as the world's largest market for new energy cars. Now, the country has at least 1.6 million such vehicles on the roads.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China's top industry regulator, also unveiled fresh polices to boost the development of new energy cars, as the country is eager to combat air pollution and reduce its dependence on imported oil.
Wang Binggang, an electric vehicle specialist who leads the National 863 Energy-saving and New Energy Vehicle Project, said new energy cars are expected to account for half of all car sales in China by 2030.