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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

China technology giant Tencent Holdings is recruiting self-driving car engineers in Palo Alto, the latest in a crowd of Chinese companies flocking to Silicon Valley. Of the 60 companies that have permits to test autonomous vehicles in California, 14 of them are from China.

Why it matters: China's aspiration to dominate the AV field is heavily dependent on R&D centers in Silicon Valley, where Chinese companies employ hundreds of software engineers and partner with critical U.S. tech suppliers.

Even though some companies don't even plan to deploy self-driving vehicles in the U.S., there's a certain cachet that comes from validating their technology and securing investment in California — the epicenter of AV research.

"The reason they're testing in California is the talent’s here, the roads are generally good, the weather is generally good, and the financing is here as well."
— Reilly Brennan, founding general partner, Trucks Venture Capital

The 800-pound gorilla is Baidu, China's Google counterpart. Like Google, it has big ambitions in AVs. Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and has 4 test vehicles on the road, with 2 more coming soon, a spokesperson tells Axios.

But there are others to watch:

  • Pony.ai, cofounded by ex-Google and Baidu engineers, splits its headquarters between Guangzhou, China, and Fremont, Calif. The company has raised $214 million and claims a nearly $1 billion valuation. It already launched a self-driving taxi fleet in Guangzhou.
  • Roadstar.ai, with headquarters in Shenzhen and Silicon Valley, develops technologies to quickly sync and interpret information gathered by different sensors on self-driving cars. Founded in May 2017, the company has raised $138 million.
  • TuSimple, based in San Diego, is developing self-driving semi-trucks. Its specialty is long-range perception: trucks that can see 1,000 meters ahead, even in bad weather. The 3-year-old company has raised $86 million.
  • Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing service, employs more than 100 people at Didi Labs, its R&D center in Mountain View where they're developing AV technology.

The big picture: China aspires to have 30 million AVs by the end of the next decade and McKinsey estimates the market there could be worth $500 billion by 2030.

"What’s irresistible to VCs is the scale of China. They'll commercialize the technology first and the market will be bigger."
— Michael Dunne, CEO, auto tech advisory firm ZoZoGo

The big question: Do any of China's AV firms have the staying power to survive a global shakeout?

  • China's government typically picks one or two industry champions to lead the way. Baidu is the one to watch. With its Apollo open-source development program, it has lined up more than 130 partners. Just in the last week, Baidu announced deals with 3 automakers: Volvo, Ford and China's First Auto Works.
  • With so many companies working on self-driving car technology, consolidation is inevitable, Michael Ramsey, research director at Gartner Group, tells Axios.
"There are definitely too many companies developing autonomous technology. There are not that many seats at the table."
— Michael Ramsey

The bottom line: China's leading self-driving startups are betting on leveraging talent and capital in Silicon Valley in order to grab those precious seats.

Go deeper: China races for global leadership in AVs

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”