Automaker Geely calls on China to relax mapping rules to speed self-drive development

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese automaker Geely [GEELY.UL] called on the government on Thursday to loosen strict controls on mapping, saying current rules in place for national security reasons risk inhibiting the development of self-driving vehicles.

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Automakers are racing to develop autonomous, self-driving robot cars which many believe will revolutionize the future of transportation, with governments across the world hoping to promote the development of the technology on their home turf.

Li Shufu, chairman of Geely’s listed unit and controlling group, told reporters in Beijing on Thursday he has submitted a policy proposal to “prudently” liberalize mapping rules while respecting national security for consideration during the session of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which advises parliament.

The CPPCC session runs from Friday through March 13. The parliamentary session opens on Sunday until March 15.

“The development of driverless cars in China needs the support of precision digital maps,” Li told reporters. “I hope the country can profoundly open up mapping.”

Self-driving cars collect data via sensors whilst in motion to draw new maps and improve existing ones. The data is integrated with the navigation technology so the car can choose the safest and most accurate route.

Li said current rules requiring companies to obtain a license to conduct such mapping surveys make it difficult to develop autonomous driving cars.

Many Chinese automakers seeking to develop self-driving cars have sought to partner technology firms that already have licenses.

Search engine firm Baidu Inc has teamed up with Chery Automobile Co Ltd [CHERY.UL], BYD Co Ltd, BAIC Motor Corp Ltd and, previously, BMW AG. E-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and SAIC Motor Corp Ltd said they are jointly working on autonomous technology.

Volvo, purchased by Geely in 2010, was in the first wave of automakers testing autonomous cars on Chinese roads but has not announced any partnership with a local tech firm.

Globally, a consensus has yet to emerge for how to best regulate the nascent technology, with concerns including who will be legally responsible in a crash.

Industry insiders said China’s unified, top-down plan to commercialize highly or fully self-driving cars from 2021 to 2025 could be an advantage over a patchwork of laws in the United States.

The new U.S. government, meanwhile, is reviewing national guidance on autonomous driving issued under the previous administration after automakers raised concerns that it could delay testing.

Still, Li believes the United States will likely commercialize driverless robot cars first.

“If we want to guess, (driverless cars) will first be widely used in the U.S.,” he said. “Then Chinese people will say, ‘the U.S. is using them? We should use them too’.”

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Christopher Cushing