We Tried A Tesla ‘Full-Self-Driving’ Competitor From China. It’s Better Than You Think

By automotive-mag.com 10 Min Read

One of Tesla’s biggest claims to fame in the US is its “full-self-driving” semi-autonomous driving software (that is not fully self-driving). However, it hasn’t ever offered it in China. Partially due to (likely) protectionist claims against Tesla that its cars didn’t meet China’s cybersecurity and data protection rules, but also because it didn’t have a mapping license to access China’s HD road data in the first place. Those two issues got sorted out when Elon Musk visited China in late April, but the whole FSD suite hasn’t been approved for use in China yet. Until then, China’s drivers are still in a “Coming soon” limbo.

During these delays, China’s own tech and car giants have stepped in to fill that self-driving vacuum. Geely and Baidu (often called China’s Google) have teamed up to tackle the problem, forming Ji Yue, a new brand under Geely’s umbrella. I got to see the brand’s technology in action, albeit from the passenger seat.

Ji Yue has two models, one of which was unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show. The Ji Yue 07 is a sleek five-door rakish four-door electric coupe, while the 01 is a sleekly styled crossover-turned-hatchback. Both cars use the same Geely SEA (sustainable experience architecture) platform used by the Zeekr 001 and Polestar 4. The 01 is a handsome car, if a little generic for my tastes. It looks like a tech company decided to make a car but wasn’t sure how to create a strong brand identity, which makes sense given its roots. The new Ji Yue 07 is more attractive but suffers from the same problem. 


Like Tesla’s vision-based system, the Ji Yue 01’s PPA (Point-to-Point Autopilot) system is primarily camera-only. When I asked Ji Yue representatives how the company avoids the same pitfalls as Tesla, they said that the Ji Yue system does use some radar as a backup. It wasn’t clear how that radar data factors into the car’s self-driving abilities. But high-quality HD maps give the car more granular environmental data than it could get with its cameras alone. 

At least while parked, the system was great at determining objects. It rendered people, cars, buildings and even plants, in a cute, blocky pixel art style. Many of these objects were also visible in the car’s head-up display. 

The Ji Yue team, really, really wanted me to try out the self-driving features. They put me in the front passenger seat of one for my ride from the racetrack (where we tested Geely group vehicles) to the hotel.

It’s nearly impossible for foreign drivers to drive on Chinese roads without a Chinese driver’s license, so my impressions of the Ji Yue 01 are solely as a passenger.

PPA works like a combination of GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s Blue Cruise and Tesla’s FSD. This means that it will only work on roads that have been given the full HD mapping treatment by Baidu. The tech giant says it’ll have more than 200 Chinese cities mapped by the end of 2024, but as of right now, not even all of Beijing is quite mapped. PPA appeared to have most of the city’s main thoroughfares and freeways mapped, but some of the smaller side streets were not. As we exited the racetrack, the driver had to manually drive the car until he reached a road where PPA was available. I didn’t mind. The roads we traversed had pretty washed-out lane markings, and I can’t imagine a self-driving car navigating that very well. Heck, our human driver had a tough time dodging the parked cars and cyclists.

When we reached the main road, the driver pressed a button on the steering wheel (yoke) to engage the Ji Yue 01’s semi-autonomous driving mode. We were off. 

While at a roundtable during the Beijing Auto Show, Ji Yue’s leadership claimed the car was actually “nearly Level 4 autonomy,” the SAE level at which the driver no longer needs to be ready to intervene, allowing the car to drive itself when the driver is sleeping or without a driver in it at all. That’s a pretty bold claim from the brand. Really, it’s more like Level 2—driver assistance that can control the car, but only when supervised by a driver that is ready to correct mistakes.

So far, there is no Level 3 system—one that allows for no driver supervision in limited circumstances—available in China. However, companies like BYD and XPeng are testing systems under special approval from the Chinese government. Thus, Chinese Ji Yue drivers must be ready to assume control of the vehicle at any time.

Still, the Ji Yue navigated busy Beijing traffic reasonably well. China is incredibly dense, and Beijing traffic is bad. The 01 was pretty competent at judging the mess of pedestrians, impatient drivers, cyclists and motorbikes that don’t seem to have any respect for traffic laws. PPA tended to err on the side of caution, giving way to bikes and pedestrians I didn’t really see.

But, just like most semi-autonomous driving software I’ve seen, PPA sometimes wasn’t quite as quick as a human driver. Ji Yue’s system claims to be able to change lanes either on its own or at the command of the driver. During a moment on the freeway during Beijing’s rush hour, the driver commanded it to change lanes. The Ji Yue waited for about a full minute before the car gave up and gave control back to the driver. A human driver would have likely been able to dart into the small gaps in traffic, but the computerized system just couldn’t do it.


It did impress me when it made an unprotected left across traffic. That’s not an easy feat in China, where drivers and pedestrians often act like it’s every man for themselves when the light turns green. 

Ji Yue’s PPA system is impressive, (or maybe not, if you’re a Tesla fan), but there’s a big question lingering over it, and any other self-driving vehicle’s head: does anyone actually want this stuff? 

I asked Ji Yue’s CEO, Joe Xia, how Ji Yue plans to overcome issues with demand for its PPA system. After all, Tesla’s price slashing and free trial programs of its FSD suite suggest that its take rate is lower than expected, and it wants to increase those numbers. Xia countered, insisting that Tesla’s take rate is low partly because the company has failed to deliver on its promises for FSD. “In China, we sell real autonomous driving. We sell real FSD,” he said. Though it’s worth noting that nothing in China is “full self-driving,” either. All of the currently available systems require driver supervision and are technically driver-assistance features, not autonomous driving systems. Even abroad, the only real commercially available system above Level 2 is from Mercedes-Benz. Its Drive Pilot software is the only Level 3 autonomous driving program on sale, but here in the U.S. it only works when stuck in traffic on certain Nevada and California freeways. 

“I think the competition in the US, is pretty weak…but in China, we are competing with different brands constantly,” he continued, explaining that Ji Yue’s superior tech is what will win over customers.


Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. The Ji Yue 01 has been on sale since October 2023, but reportedly it had only sold a paltry 2,300 units by mid-April 2024. It’s a similar story with XPeng. Its acclaimed XNGP self-driving suite of software doesn’t seem to have helped the brand get out of its slow-selling hell. Maybe the system is too expensive. PPA can be purchased for 49,990 CNY ($6,906 at current exchange rates), or 990 CNY ($137) per month. That’s pricey for the average Chinese consumer. 

There have been reports that Ji Yue has very recently overhauled its sales and marketing teams with the goal of boosting its sales. So, perhaps the sleek Ji Yue 07 will change the story for the brand when it goes on sale later this year. 

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