An autonomous driverless robot taxi vehicle developed by Baidu Apollo driving down a street in Beijing.

Jade Gao | Afp | Getty Images

SHANGHAI — A Chinese technology company Baidu said on Wednesday that its robotic taxi division Apollo Go expects to become profitable next year.

The forecast comes after Elon Musk highlighted plans to build Tesla’s robotaxi efforts amid falling revenue.

Baidu is one of the major players in China’s nascent robotics market and received permission from a Beijing metropolitan area to start charging fees in November 2021.

Although most cars still have a human safety officer on board, the same district in Beijing officially allowed Baidu and startup to charge for unmanned robotic rides in September 2023.

Apollo Go made about 839,000 trips in the last three months of 2023, according to Baidu’s latest earnings report. The company is due to release quarterly results on Thursday.

About 45 percent of orders in the fourth quarter in Wuhan were entirely driverless, up from 40 percent in the previous quarter, the company said.

In addition to increasing usage and reducing labor costs per trip, Baidu is making cars cheaper.

Baidu on Wednesday announced that the sixth generation of Apollo robots will cost about 200,000 yuan ($28,169) — or less than half of the previous generation, the company said.

This year, Baidu plans to deploy 1,000 of these 6th-generation robotics in the city of Wuhan, where the company already operates a number of vehicles without human personnel inside.

“With declining costs and increasing orders, Apollo Go’s unit (UE) economics are close to break-even, expected to break even in the fourth quarter of 2024 and become profitable by 2025,” Baidu said in a press release.

A rival robotics operator is preparing for an external listing mainland China, according to the website of the China Securities Regulatory Commission in late April.

Others in the auto industry remain more skeptical of fully self-driving cars, which require broad regulatory approval to operate.

Xpeng Vice Chairman Brian Gu told reporters last month that he didn’t expect robotics to be a real business for at least five years.