China’s Didi Chuxing and electric vehicle maker BYD on Monday launched their purpose-built D1 van model for ride-hailing services, the first model the ride-hailing giant has unveiled since it said it was working on such a vehicle in 2018.
SoftBank-backed Didi and Shenzhen-based BYD, which is backed by U.S. investor Warren Buffett, started to jointly design and develop the model two years ago.
The vans would be available to drivers in China’s central city of Changsha, where BYD is building the vehicles, in December before shipping to other cities.
The launch of the world’s first volume customized vehicle for sharing rides underscores how tech firms, from software makers for self-driving vehicles to car-sharing platforms, are disrupting traditional automakers amid major shifts towards electric vehicles and pay-per-use models.
The electric, compact D1 model, which was announced by Didi CEO Cheng Wei at an event in Beijing, has a sliding door on its right side to prevent passengers from opening the door and potentially hitting cyclists or pedestrians.
It also has more comfortable seats for drivers and larger leg-room for backseat passengers, Didi President Jean Liu said at the event. Liu said the vehicles will come in an “avocado green” color, similar to Didi‘s sharing bikes.
Didi has more than 550 million registered users and 31 million drivers, from whom it collects data to help develop the vehicle.
In 2018, Didi formed an alliance with automakers to develop purpose-built cars for ride-hailing, with the company offering its customers and operational skills to automakers wanting to develop their own ride-hailing services in return for design expertise.
It has launched several joint ventures with established automakers including Volkswagen, BAIC, and BYD to develop intelligent vehicles and fleet management.
Cheng said the company hopes to have one million vehicles with basic autonomous driving capabilities in 2025.