It's a marked difference from the U.S., where most companies eschew the idea of relying on the government to install equipment that may be important to their near-term plans. V2X may still be a powerful safety tool for both human-driven and automated vehicles, but deployments in the U.S. have been mired in arguments over competing methods for transmitting messages.
Traffic-light information is already incorporated into many AVs in China today, and could play a larger safety role for autonomous vehicles later, helping to provide information that complements the sensors on board vehicles and reducing the number of confounding scenarios. V2X offers the prospect of enhancing the safety of all vehicles on the road, whether human driven or automated, by providing information beyond line of sight.
"It's a streetlight versus a headlight," Han said. "We have to make sure our cars are capable of autonomous driving without it. It doesn't replace anything we've developed over the past 10 years. But this will make autonomous driving more reliable."
Despite the momentum across China, a pragmatism remains in most of the executives. Han said he believes the Chinese companies are collectively a year or two behind their U.S. counterparts.
And there are undefined hurdles. Meng says the prospect of scaling from a fleet of several hundred test cars to several hundred thousand cars in operation is one that no company has truly faced yet, and much work remains in optimizing charging, refueling, maintenance, insurance and financing.
"One hundred cars, you can keep track on an Excel spreadsheet," he said. "But 500,000 cars, that's a huge asset-management problem."
Still, given the technology hurdles already overcome and the government support behind the broad autonomous endeavor, those are surmountable challenges, ones that the Chinese have taken the initiative to solve in recent months.
"It's happening," Dunne said. "The Chinese are always seemingly quicker to commercialize technology than we are. We're still the fount — the best technology — in California. But in terms of commercialization, it's very tough to beat the Chinese."