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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Many experts say China could be first to deploy autonomous vehicles at scale — and one indicator is how they've already taken the global lead in electric vehicles thanks to government policies and consumer attitudes.

The big picture: Sales of electric cars are growing quickly in China, where consumers are also open to innovations like car-sharing. By loosening regulatory guidelines and swinging open the door to autonomous vehicle testing, China is pulling away from other countries on disruptive new mobility initiatives, a recent study finds.

The details, from German consultancy Roland Berger, which tracks and scores countries on 26 indicators of auto industry disruption:

  • The global shift toward electric vehicles is happening mostly in China, which sold more than 750,000 EVs through October — more than half of EVs sold worldwide.
  • China doubled its EV charging infrastructure over the past year, while putting limits on registrations for gasoline-powered vehicles.
  • It also ended a ban on foreign ownership of EV manufacturers in the country and granted permission for Daimler and BMW to test AVs in Beijing and Shanghai.
  • Meanwhile, Chinese tech companies like Baidu and Huawei are teaming up on new ventures with Western automakers.

Why it matters: If China pursues autonomous vehicle technology as intently as it sought and achieved leadership in electrics, it could be first to see widespread adoption of AVs.

"China will be the first to commercialize at scale simply because the regulators will pave the way with pro-autonomous policies."
— Michael Dunne, president of China automotive consultancy ZoZo Go

It's not just government hands at work. Chinese consumers are also driving the shift in mobility.

  • 75% of Chinese consumers use an app to plan a trip once a week, and 65% said they are interested in buying an electric car — more than three times as many as in the U.S., Roland Berger found.
  • "No other country is as advanced and as open," says Roland Berger.

The results dovetail with other research on global mobility trends. While Americans and Europeans are growing more skeptical about AVs, people in China are more open-minded, according to a new mobility study from Continental, a leading supplier of AV technology.

"Consumers in China are far quicker to accept autonomous vehicles because the car ownership culture in China is a short and shallow 25 years compared with more than a century in the West."  
— Dunne

Yes, but:

  • China's growth is sputtering as trade tensions escalate, which could crush its dreams of dominating AV development.
  • Automakers in the country still need to source some fundamental components from outside of China, such as semiconductor chips and drivetrains, and China lacks cutting-edge battery technology, despite laws that favor domestic producers.
  • The West has a blind spot when it comes to China’s breakneck technological advances, writes Axios' Kaveh Waddell.

Go deeper

Updated 42 mins ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker

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