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China's SAIC Motor can start testing autonomous vehicles in California

  • SAIC Motor is a top Chinese automaker that established a Silicon Valley innovation center in 2015.
  • The company's self-driving cars have driven at least 12,000 miles each.
SAIC Motor's Roewe 950.
SAIC Motor's Roewe 950.

China's state-owned automaker SAIC Motor now has clearance to start testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in California.

The SAIC Innovation Center in Silicon Valley, established in 2015 as a subsidiary of SAIC Motor, received the permit this week, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles website.

The permit covers two cars and one driver, a DMV spokesman told CNBC in an email. SAIC becomes the 35th organization to receive a permit, following automakers Ford, GM, Honda and Tesla.

Employees of the SAIC group include former Delphi Labs Silicon Valley software lead Ryan Middleton and former Honda Research principal scientist Rakesh Gupta. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two of SAIC's rivals in China's automobile market, Dongfeng and FAW, have not yet received approval to test autonomous vehicles in California. Changan, the other major Chinese automaker, recently announced a partnership with Chinese internet company Baidu, which does have permission to test autonomous vehicles in the state.

U.S. technology companies Apple, Alphabet and Nvidia have also gained permits to test autonomous vehicles on California public roads.

SAIC Motor sold nearly 6.5 million vehicles in 2016. In a statement earlier this year, SAIC said its self-driving cars had run for more than 12,000 miles each in road tests. The company did not disclose the number of self-driving cars in its fleet.

On California public roads, Alphabet subsidiary Waymo's cars drove a total of more than 635,000 miles in autonomous mode in the year that ended Nov. 30, according to DMV data.