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UPDATE 1-Alibaba-backed autonomous car firm AutoX to test in four more cities

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SHENZHEN/SHANGHAI, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Chinese autonomous vehicle startup AutoX, backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , said it is preparing for tests in four more cities and will soon test its technology with FCA’S Pacifica minivan.

The four-year-old firm is also in talks with prospective investors to fund fleet expansion and development, Chief Executive Xiao Jianxiong told Reuters, without elaborating.

Automakers and technology firms are investing billions of dollars in autonomous driving, aiming to take an early lead in what many consider the future of mobility. To attract deep-pocketed partners, startups seek to test their technology with different production vehicles in a variety of cities.

Shenzhen-based AutoX has modified a number of vehicles from various manufacturers and tested them in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Wuhu. In July, it became the second firm after Alphabet Inc’s Waymo to test a vehicle on California’s public roads without a safety driver in the front.

AutoX, also backed by Dongfeng Motor Group Co Ltd and SAIC Motor Corp Ltd, offers robotaxi services in a Shanghai district. It now plans to build up test fleets in Beijing, western Chonqqing and two other cities, Xiao said.

“Chongqing brings new challenges as a hilly city,” Xi ao said in an interview. AutoX will also soon start testing vehicles in China with no safety driver in the front seat, he said.

The startup is pursuing the so-called level 4 autonomous driving standard, in which a vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in most circumstances without human intervention.

The latest vehicle AutoX has fitted with its technology is the Pacifica from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) - a vehicle often favoured by Waymo. Its sensor layout differs from Waymo’s to suit China’s infrastructure, where some areas cannot accommodate tall vehicles, Xiao said.

AutoX’s competition in the world’s biggest auto market includes Pony.ai, backed by Toyota Motor Corp, and WeRide, backed by Nissan Motor Co Ltd and Renault SA , as well as internet search giant Baidu Inc. (Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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