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Uber-like freight service steps up AI investment

By Ma Si and Chen Meiling | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-16 08:32
Dai Wenjian (center), founder of truck-calling app Huochebang, gives instructions to an employee at the company's office in Guiyang, Guizhou province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Manbang Group created by merger of major players in sharing economy

China's largest Uber-like freight service provider will step up its investment into artificial intelligence, as it scrambles to tap into the new technology to boost efficiency in matching empty trucks with loads.

Manbang Group, which was created last November after China's top two truck-calling apps Huochebang and Yunmanman merged, has already set up an AI laboratory in Silicon Valley, in the hope of accessing cutting-edge technologies and top talent, said Xu Qiang, vice-president of Yunmanman. Yunmanman and Huochebang maintain independent operation after the merger.

According to Xu, more efforts will be made to accelerate the application of AI in the company's platforms and systems, after the merger created a tech player valued at more than $2 billion. Manbang Group is now the second-largest unicorn company in the Chinese logistics industry, following Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's logistics arm Cainiao, according to the Hurun China Unicorn Index 2017.

"We now have the world's largest truck application scenario, with tens of thousands of trucks looking for loads every day. AI will certainly be one of our focuses," Xu said.

Huochebang, backed by deep-pocketed investors such as Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd, said its platform has about 4.8 million truck drivers and about 950,000 shippers who look for trucks to carry their goods. The number for Yunmanman is 4 million and 1 million respectively, with its services available in 334 cities across China.

The two companies, which announced a merger plan in November, were both major players in China's trucking market, which is estimated to be worth 5 trillion yuan ($776 billion). They allow shippers to post load information on mobile applications and connect them with truck drivers, so as to reduce a truck's empty miles and waiting time between loads.

The marriage is considered an effective move to end a costly battle, as the two players are seen as such close rivals that no winner was likely in the short term.

"Instead of fighting at each other's expense, we figure it is far better for us to devote more time and energy to upgrading ourselves. The sector is spinning so fast that everyone is likely to be left behind," Xu said.

After the merger, Wang Gang, a backer of Yunmanman and an angel investor in ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, has become CEO of Manbang Group. Wang said the company aims to cover all the truck drivers in China and will expand into areas such as new-energy trucks and self-driving technologies.

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