Baidu is somewhat like Google, inasmuch as it operates a search engine, by far the leading search engine in China. But there are other services as well, including maps (Google), an encyclopedia (Wikipedia) and cloud storage (AWS).
So it is fair to simply describe it as a significant tech company.
Like other tech companies, it is expanding its operations. And so it should come as no surprise that it is moving into automotive.
But it isn’t like the company just discovered the space. It has been operating Baidu USA since 2011 and has been conducting autonomous driving operations in Silicon Valley for more than five years.
In 2017 Baidu announced Apollo, the autonomous driving platform that it garnered an array of partners to participate with in on the development, partners ranging from Intel to Toyota.
It is running an autonomous taxi service in a few cities in China.
Geely Holding–parent company of brands including Volvo Cars, Lynk & Co and LEVC, and lead shareholder in Geely Auto, Proton and Lotus—and Baidu have announced the creation of a partnership for the development of highly automated electric vehicles.
Geely is going to be providing the platform—the Sustainable Experience Architecture, which it announced in September 2020 as an “open source” electric vehicle platform that it would offer to other global OEMs—and Baidu the digital horsepower.
Manufacturing vehicles is a different kind of hard than the challenges associated with developing AI systems.
It makes absolute sense that a digital company would partner with a hardware manufacturer—in this case, the hardware being a vehicle, not a smartphone.
In a market where there are some 21-million passenger vehicles sold per year, where there is a comparatively low penetration rate of vehicle ownership (on the order of 173 vehicles per 1,000 people, compared with 837 in the U.S.), even a small slice of the market is still damned large.
And neither Geely nor Baidu seems to be focused on the small.–gsv