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China's Tech Giant Baidu is Considering Making its Own Electric Vehicles, Sources Say

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【Summary】China’s tech giant Baidu, which is the country's equivalent of Google, is reportedly seeking to build its own electric car. Baidu has already held talks with automakers about the possibility, people with knowledge of the matter said. Baidu is actively working on autonomous driving technology as part of its Apollo open platform established in 2017. The open Apollo platform is designed to speed up the development of self-driving technology through collaboration between industry partners.

Eric Walz    Dec 15, 2020 10:45 AM PT
China's Tech Giant Baidu is Considering Making its Own Electric Vehicles, Sources Say

For the past several years, iPhone maker Apple Inc. was rumored to be working on a secretive car project to build a futuristic vehicle that's basically a computer on wheels. While Apple's true plans are not known and closely guarded, it's one of the world's most valuable technology companies so Apple has the financial resources to make its happen.

Now the focus is shifting to China which is the world's biggest auto market. China's tech giant Baidu, the country's equivalent of Google, is reportedly seeking to build its own electric car, Reuters reports.

Baidu has already held talks with automakers about the possibility, three people with knowledge of the matter said. As a technology company, Baidu will likely enter into a contract manufacturing agreement or create a majority-owned venture with an established automaker.

Reuters reports that Baidu has already held preliminary talks with Geely, as well as Guangzhou Automobile Group Co Ltd (GAC) and China FAW Group Corp Ltd's Hongqi, on a possible venture, the people said. Geely is the parent company of Swedish automaker Volvo Cars.

If the plans are true any electric vehicle built in a joint venture with Baidu would likely be connected and capable of self-driving.

Baidu is Already Working on Self-Driving Cars

Baidu is actively working on autonomous driving technology as part of its Apollo open platform established in 2017. The open Apollo platform is designed to speed up the development of self-driving technology through collaboration between industry partners. Baidu's Apollo is widely regarded as the "Android of the automotive industry".  

Since Baidu launched Apollo, more than 100 companies have joined, including Mercedes Benz, BMW, Toyota and Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (Geely).

Baidu is also working on connected vehicle technology and an autonomous robotaxi service. In May, Baidu opened what it calls the world's largest intelligent vehicle infrastructure cooperative System (IVICS) to support these efforts.

The comprehensive test site is called "Apollo Park" and will support the development of autonomous vehicles, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology supported by 5G connection speeds, which allows vehicles to communicate with each other as well as to urban infrastructure, such as traffic lights. 

Baidu's Apollo Park can support all of the functions associated with self-driving vehicles and connected cars, including cloud computing for analyzing big data, operational command, maintenance and calibration, research and development and vehicle storage. 

The missing piece for Baidu is building a custom-designed electric vehicle supported by Apollo technology.

Baidu declined to comment on its plans. However automaker GAC said it has a strategic partnership with Baidu and that any further cooperation was subject to discussion. Geely said it was not familiar with the matter, while automaker FAW did not respond to a request for comment, Reuters reports.

Baidu's Nasdaq-listed shares (NASDAQ: BIDU) reached an 18-month high to trade up as much as 10% after Reuters reported the talks with automakers. Shares of Geely's Hong-Kong-listed subsidiary, Geely Automobile Holdings, were up around 5% in the afternoon. 

Baidu is also working on an autonomous ride-hailing service called Apollo Go, which might be include a fleet of purposefully-built EVs. The company was the first to deploy autonomous robotaxis that are picking up passengers.

The Apollo Go service encompasses the largest total area and longest road network of about 435 miles (700 km) for an autonomous driving test area in China. The service area includes  nearly 100 pick-up and drop-off locations covering both residential and business districts in Yizhuang, Haidian, and Shunyi, Baidu said.

Baidu operates its autonomous Apollo Go robotaxi service with safety drivers behind the wheel in Beijing, Changsha and Cangzhou. Plans are in place to expand to 30 additional cities within three years. The company gained approval last week to test five cars in Beijing without safety drivers.

In September, Baidu debuted the "Robus", the first level 4 autonomous bus in China. The medium-sized Robus is just over 19 feet in length and is outfitted with Level 4 autonomous driving technologies. 

The bus is equipped with four LiDARs, two millimeter-wave radars and seven monocular cameras, and can accommodate up to 19 passengers. The Robus was jointly developed by Baidu Apollo and Chinese bus manufacturer King Long.

Baidu's reported plans for an EV come after China's biggest transportation provider Didi Chuxing unveiled its D1 last month, its first electric vehicle custom-built for ride-hailing service. 

The D1 is the first EV from Didi. The company is planning to build more customized ride-hailing vehicles by leveraging its vast expertise and data from its user base of over 550 million registered passengers and 31 million drivers. 

The battery-powered D1 will come with many of DiDi's ride-hailing safety innovations, including a driver monitoring system (DMS), a steering wheel with safety alerts and response functions, and an AI voice and video monitoring and analysis system that uses DiDi's facial and object recognition technology, according to a report from Chinese news outlet Gasgoo.

The D1 robotaxi was jointly developed jointly by Didi and Chinese automaker BYD.

Now Baidu might be take the same approach for its own custom-built electric vehicle.

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