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By Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese autonomous vehicle startup AutoX, backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said on Thursday it has started fully driverless vehicle testing in China with Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA).
AutoX, which is also backed by Dongfeng Motor Group Co Ltd and SAIC Motor Corp Ltd, will have a fleet of 25 driverless vehicles in Shenzhen and five in other cities to test the technology. Automakers and technology firms are investing billions of dollars in autonomous driving, aiming to take an early lead in what many consider the future of mobility. Shenzhen-based AutoX has modified a number of vehicles from various manufacturers and tested them in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Wuhu.
To attract deep-pocketed partners, startups seek to test their technology with different production vehicles in a variety of cities.
In July, AutoX became the second firm after Alphabet Inc's Waymo to test a passenger vehicle on California's public roads without a safety driver in the front.
Unlike rivals WeRide and Baidu, which are testing their driverless vehicles in China but use a remote centre to take control of their vehicles if needed, AutoX will not have a remote centre.
"We think with current communications infrastructure, remote control brings safety issues as 5G signals are not stable yet and hackers might attack the vehicles," AutoX Chief Executive Xiao Jianxiong told Reuters.
In China, companies such as Toyota-backed Pony.ai and Didi Chuxing are also testing autonomous cars, but all with one or two safety staff onboard. The people onboard take control in unexpected situations.
(Reporting by Yilei Sun in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)