China’s Jidu Robo-1 looks like it’s from the future. Perhaps it is

The partnership with Geely could give Jidu a significant boost in the notoriously tricky business of making high-volume, high-reliability cars, said Tu Le, director of Sino Auto Insights, an analyst firm focused on the Chinese automotive sector. He adds that China’s auto industry is electrifying at a faster rate than Europe or the US because of government policies, a less entrenched gasoline-powered industry, and because such a large population is adopting new technologies more quickly.

Thanks to Baidu

Thanks to Baidu

The Robo-1 shows how big, innovative and fast China’s auto industry is, says Mingyu Guan, partner at industry-focused consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Guan says most major internet companies in China are developing automotive technology in one way or another, and consumers expect an app-like experience in their vehicles. “China is like a leading beacon for the industry,” Guan said.

Baidu’s leap into auto manufacturing with Jidu is also a sign of the evolution of China’s technology industry. In recent years, major internet, social media and popular app companies have faced increasing regulatory scrutiny and pressure, with strict new rules around data privacy and algorithmic transparency, for example.

The Chinese government has also expressed its intention to more strictly regulate the Internet while encouraging the development of technologies of long-term economic importance. Baidu and other companies apparently want to reinvent themselves by focusing on “deep tech” that the state considers more valuable, including technologies for electric vehicle and autonomous driving. Baidu’s most recent quarterly results, released in May, also show that Baidu AI Cloud’s earnings rose 45 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2022, while online marketing revenue shrank by 4 percent. Net losses for the period were $133 million.

Baidu has made significant investments, and encouraged by the government, for autonomous driving. In November 2017, the Chinese government named Baidu one of a handful of AI “national champions” and gave the company the responsibility for building an autonomous driving platform that can be used across the industry. The government’s support also gave Baidu an edge in partnering with existing auto companies. In March, the company published more than 3,700 patent applications related to the technology in China. And in April, Apollo Go, Baidu’s autonomous taxi service, which already operates in 10 cities in China, received the country’s first permit for test driverless self-driving vehicles behind the wheel in Beijing.

Apollo also integrates with a smart-city platform that sells Baidu, which has been adopted by 41 cities in China. This platform promises to help local authorities predict and manage congestion, road safety and pollution using AI. Baidu CEO Robin Li praised the potential of autonomous driving to reduce traffic accidents, congestion and carbon emissions in China at Baidu’s December 2021 annual developer conference.

Jidu will no doubt be encouraged by the broader progress the Chinese auto industry has made, driven in large part by the rise of electric vehicles. Chinese electric vehicle sales are up 169 percent in 2021 compared to a year earlier, according to data from the China Passenger Car Association, a trade association. For 2021, electric cars accounted for 14.8 percent of Chinese car sales, compared to 4.1 percent in the US. Chinese car companies are now also export a growing number of EVs to Europe

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