Jin Wang, CEO of China’s self-driving startup JingChi, has stepped down just 11 months after founding the company.
JingChi said in a statement that “Jin Wang left the company due to family issues. Despite that, the company remains unchanged.” JingChi CTO Tony Han, the rumored pick to replace Wang as CEO, has not yet responded to Synced’s request for comment.
A CEO exiting a months-old startup is barely seen in the tech world. Wang’s departure is widely rumoured to be related to JingChi’s dispute with Baidu, which sued the startup two months ago for allegedly stealing its self-driving technology.
The lawsuit echoes the 2017 Waymo vs Uber dispute in which Waymo accused Uber of stealing its LiDar technology. That case was recently resolved, with Uber paying Waymo a settlement of US$245 million in stock options.
Before Wang started JingChi he was a Baidu senior vice president. He co-founded Baidu’s autonomous driving unit, which spawned the open source autonomous driving development platform Apollo.
Last March, Wang left Baidu and co-founded JingChi in Sunnyvale, California. The company successfully completed its first open road autonomous driving testing in only 81 days, and put a prototype through Silicon Valley rush hour traffic two months later.
The huge demand for autonomous driving services in China prompted JingChi to move its headquarters to Guangzhou last December. Wang concluded an agreement with Guangzhou Development District to deploy a L4 self-driving ride-hauling service by the end of 2018. The company also promised to deliver 500 to 1000 autonomous driving commercial vehicles through 2018.
JingChi’s fast tech development and ambitious plans attracted interest from Nvidia, who joined a group of investors led by Chinese venture capital firm Qiming Venture in JingChi’s Series Pre A Funding Round, which raised US$52 million.
However, JingChi’s rapid rise was interrupted last December when Baidu filed a suit accusing JingChi of infringement on its commercial secrets, not returning devices that contained classified information, and poaching technical personnel. Baidu sought compensation of USD$7.6 million, and a JingChi promise to discontinue use of the company’s proprietary information or technologies relating to autonomous driving.
Wang initially dismissed the accusations: “As an innovative start-up, we are not afraid of competitors, so the challenge will not delay our pace of development… Baidu’s prosecution is completely unfounded and JingChi lawyers will respond factually and legally.” The lawsuit is ongoing in Beijing Intellectual Property Court.
At this point it’s still too early to say how Wang’s departure will affect either the lawsuit or the company’s tech development and overall health. Many questions remain unanswered, especially: What will be JingChi’s next move? Synced is covering the story and will continue to update readers with the latest news.
Journalist: Tony Peng| Editor: Michael Sarazen