As it prepares to introduce its first vehicle this month, Chinese startup SF Motors has begun to test its autonomous vehicle technology on California and Michigan roads.
The EV maker, a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Sokon Motors, obtained a permit to test self-driving cars from the California Department of Motor vehicles in December 2017. The company said it began testing in the state this year, and has been conducting public road trials in the Detroit 3’s backyard through a partnership with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, as well as in China.
“We’re starting to get our technology on the road, leading to future product implementation,” said Yifan Tang, chief technology officer at SF Motors.
The automaker has been planting roots in the U.S., beginning with the opening of its Silicon Valley office in Santa Clara, Calif., in March 2017 and the purchase of the former AM General assembly plant in Indiana in June. In October, SF Motors acquired EV battery systems startup Inevit, bringing onboard its founder Martin Eberhard, who also co-founded Tesla Inc.
The company operates a research office in Ann Arbor through a five-year, $2.5 million partnership with the University of Michigan, and uses the school’s MCity autonomous vehicle testing site.
Despite its growing presence in the U.S., SF Motors has yet to show any of its vehicles and has given few details of its product plans. The company said it will introduce its first EV on March 28 at an event at its Silicon Valley headquarters.
Tang said the automaker has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology through simulation, closed courses and now public roads in Santa Clara and highways in California and Michigan. It has been using vehicles from other automakers retrofitted with its technology, as well as its own prototypes to test the hardware and software.
The executive said SF Motors is focusing on “protective” autonomy, gradually rolling out self-driving features as they are deemed safe but also convenient for the driver.
“We care very much about functionality,” Tang said. “We want to provide protective autonomy assistance.”