NIO, the Chinese electric car company with tens of billions of dollars in cash on hand, has accelerated its expansion and begun to invest more in its automated driving software.
Jamie Carlson, the North American-based vice president in charge of NIO's automated driving business, left the company in June, and Ren Shaoqing, formerly Momenta's director of research and development, has joined NIO, hinting that NIO will increase its investment in automated driving technology, according to 36Kr.
Ren Shaoqing serves as assistant vice president and reports directly to NIO CEO Li Bin, the report said, adding that a NIO executive confirmed the information.
Jamie Carlson, who left Apple in October 2016 to join NIO's North American R&D center, has returned to Apple's Special Projects Group, where the company's Titan car project is based.
According to the report, the departure of Jamie Carlson and the addition of Ren Shaoqing is in line with NIO's return to China to focus its self-driving strategy.
At the Chengdu Auto Show this year, Li Bin said that NIO's autopilot team is already focused on China, "In fact, after adjusting last year, the number of people in the ADAS department in China is larger than in the United States. The total number of people is close to 200, with 160 in China and slightly less than 40 in the US."
NIO had deployed luxury autopilot technology teams in China and the US to develop decision and control algorithm capabilities for L2-level autopilot around Mobileye's Eye Q4 chip, as well as simultaneous independent development for L4-level autopilot.
But into 2019, because of the funding crisis, NIO saw a series of layoffs, non-core business sale and other cost control initiatives, the luxury North American autopilot team was the first to be affected.
In November 2019, NIO and automated driving technology company Mobileye reached a strategic cooperation, with the latter responsible for the new generation of Mobileye EyeQ system chips and related software, NIO responsible for automated driving system development, integration and mass production.
The 36Kr report says that the renewed alliance with Mobileye means that NIO's self-driving route on itself is not sustainable.
In December 2019, NIO made a major layoff of 141 employees at its North American R&D center, with the autopilot team being the hardest hit.
Sources close to NIO's senior management told 36Kr that in a recent internal meeting, Li Bin stressed that "we need to catch up the progress of ADAS technology that fell behind in the past year".
The addition of Ren Shaoqing is a clear signal of NIO's increased investment in autopilot research, the report said.
Ren Shaoqing was formerly director of R&D at Momenta. In the 2018 Autopilot Google Academic Citation List, Ren Shaoqing's autopilot direction cumulative academic citations were second in the world.
In the employee file, Ren's business line is also computer vision. Visual perception is the core technology in the chain of automatic driving, intelligent electric car companies, currently only Tesla and its Chinese rival Xpeng is in the independent development of visual perception algorithms.