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Nvidia’s automotive chip sales still riding high in China

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Nvidia’s AI processor business in China has been all but shuttered by the US Commerce Department, but its DRIVE Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC) for electric autonomous vehicles is still going strong. 

More than a dozen corporate customers in China contribute to Nvidia’s automotive revenues, which are now running at a rate of over US$1 billion per year. 

Several of Nvidia’s Chinese customers showcased their new electric vehicles (EVs) at the 21st Guangzhou International Automobile Exhibition held from November 17-26, including Denza, Human Horizons, Ji Yue, NIO, XPeng, Zeekr and BYD. 

The Nvidia DRIVE Orin SoC is a central computer for intelligent vehicles that is capable of 254 trillion operations per second. Scalable from Level 2 advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) to Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles, DRIVE Orin enables instantaneous and redundant processing of data from exterior and interior cameras, radar, lidar and ultrasonic sensors.

Denza displayed its electric N7 SUV, which is positioned between Tesla’s Model X and Model Y. DRIVE Orin controls Denza’s proprietary Commuter Smart Driving system, which enables high-speed navigation, speed-limit and lane-keeping control, automatic emergency braking, front cross-traffic alert and parking assistance. Denza is a joint venture between BYD and Mercedes-Benz.

Human Horizons Technology presented its HiPhi Y SUV, which features road analysis, night vision and touch-free power doors. Headquartered in Shanghai, Human Horizons produces EVs and develops autonomous driving technology. 

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It has an R&D center in Tokyo and operations centers in Munich and Oslo. Its senior executives have worked for European, American, Japanese and other Chinese auto companies.

Ji Yue, a joint venture between automaker Geely and internet and artificial intelligence (AI) specialist Baidu, displayed its new Robocar JiYue 01. Launched in late October, it combines Geely hardware with Baidu’s software technologies including an interactive vocal support system called SIMO. 

Its ROBO Drive Max assisted and autonomous driving functions include lane changing and cross-lane turns, on- and off-ramp maneuvering, obstacle avoidance, identification of pedestrians and voice-activated autonomous parking, and are provided as a monthly subscription service to facilitate software upgrades.

NIO’s exhibit featured eight models equipped with Banyan, NIO’s Smart Digital System, and Adam, a computer system incorporating four Nvidia DRIVE Orin SoCs. NIO also offers software upgrades. 

Headquartered in Shanghai, the company’s electric drive manufacturing base is located in Nanjing, its global design center in Munich, its advanced engineering R&D center in Oxford and its intelligent driving R&D center in San Jose.

XPeng presented its new X9 electric minivan and electric G6 coupe, P7i sedan and G9 four-door. Headquartered in Guangzhou, XPeng has R&D centers and factories in China, R&D centers in California, and logistics and other support facilities in Europe. 

Zeekr presented its first electric sedan, the 007. Headquartered in Zhejiang, Zeekr also makes an electric SUV, minivan and “shooting brake” station wagon. 

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It opened its first European showroom in Stockholm in November. Zeekr is owned by Geely Automotive Holdings, which also owns Volvo. It was founded in 2021 to compete with NIO and Tesla. 

BYD had its full line-up of new energy vehicles on exhibition but focused on the unveiling of its e4 platform, off-road SUV Yangwang U8 and the Yangwang U9 “supercar,” which can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in two seconds. 

Yangwang is a new premium BYD brand. The e4 Platform is the first mass-produced four-motor independent drive technology platform in China.

Last March, Nvidia announced that BYD would extend its use of the Nvidia DRIVE Orin centralized computer platform to new models in its Dynasty and Ocean electric vehicle series. 

At the time, the two companies stated that they “share the belief that future cars will be programmable, evolving from being based on many embedded controllers to high-performance centralized computers – with functionalities delivered and enhanced through software updates over the life of the car.” 

Nvidia DRIVE ecosystem partner DeepRoute.ai was also at the exhibition, demonstrating its DeepRoute-Driver 3.0 automated driving solution for Level 4 autonomous driving in complex urban scenarios, heavy rain and other bad weather. Level 4 vehicles operate on their own most of the time but the driver can still take control. 

They are usually restricted to a specific operational area (geofenced), but DeepRoute-Driver 3.0 is not. DeepRoute.ai specializes in urban logistics and robotaxis. It has two headquarters, one in Shenzhen, the other in Fremont, California.

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Altogether, more than 400 electric, hybrid and other new energy vehicles were on display in Guangzhou, of which about 60 were shown to the public for the first time. 

Competition is intense, driving the adoption of advanced technology and cementing China’s position as the world’s leading auto market – about 50% bigger than the US market and accounting for more than half of the electric vehicles sold worldwide (55% in the first half of 2023, according to Canalys technology market research). 

Other Nvidia DRIVE customers including SAIC, GAC Aion, Li Auto, IM Motors, Baidu, Desay SV, Momenta, Volvo and Lotus promoted their EVs and related products at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition last April. 

IM Motors is a joint venture formed by SAIC, Alibaba and the Zhangjiang Group. The Zhangjiang Group is responsible for the development of the Zhangjiang Science City, which is located in Shanghai’s Pudong New Area. 

With an area of 95 square kilometers, it is a center for R&D institutes and laboratories, universities and private companies. 

Momenta – founded by CEO Cao Xudong, who was previously a scientist at Microsoft Research – is a Beijing-based ADAS software developer funded by SAIC, GM, Toyota, Bosch, Mercedes-Benz and other Chinese and foreign investors. Desay SV produces in-vehicle electronics and is headquartered in Huizhou, Guangdong,

The Nvidia DRIVE Orin SoC combines Nvidia’s GPU architecture and Arm Hercules CPU cores plus deep learning and computer vision accelerators. It has become an integral part of the assisted and autonomous driving technology used by the Chinese EV industry. 

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Unlike Nvidia’s AI processors for data centers (first the A100 and H100 and then the A800 and H800), it has not yet been targeted by US sanctions. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @ScottFo83517667

Source: Asia Times

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