Chinese search giant Baidu plans to make electric vehicles with help from Geely, the country’s largest private automaker, according to a new report from Reuters. It’s the latest Chinese conglomerate to venture into the flourishing electric vehicle market, following shopping giant Alibaba and ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing.
Making electric vehicles would also represent a broadening of Baidu’s ambition to branch into transportation. Baidu has already spent years working on self-driving technology and is the leading Chinese company in the autonomous vehicle space.
Baidu will likely form a new joint venture with Geely for the EV effort, Reuters reports, and will develop software for the vehicle while Geely focuses on the hardware. Specifically, Baidu and Geely are in talks to use the latter’s scalable electric vehicle platform that it announced late last year. But Baidu will own a majority stake in the new company and will therefore control its direction.
The Chinese government has spent years focusing its biggest companies on developing green technology in an attempt to beat other world powers to the punch. Beijing has insinuated that a gas car ban was on the horizon since 2017 (before ultimately putting a policy in place late last year) and announced generous subsidy policy for clean vehicles, leading to an incredible boom in electric vehicle startups.
The country’s biggest tech companies have spent that time eyeing the best way into the market. At first, they simply placed bets. Alibaba funded XPeng, an electric vehicle startup that first made headlines by copying Tesla’s designs. Tencent backed Nio, one of the first (and now biggest) EV startups in China. But recently they’ve made more concrete moves. Alibaba formed an electric vehicle joint venture with SAIC, which is China’s largest carmaker. Didi Chuxing is working with Chinese automotive giant BYD to make electric ride-hailing vehicles. Baidu’s partnership with Geely is the latest example of this concentrated effort.
Geely has big ambitions itself. The company already owns Volvo and has a partnership with Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler. But it also has its hand in everything from passenger drones, to a high-speed rail, to a newly proposed satellite network.