China’s Baidu Inc is thinking about making its own electric vehicles and has held talks with automakers regarding the possibility, three people knowledgeable with the matter said, the recent move in a race among tech firms to develop smart cars.
The search-engine leader, which develops autonomous driving technology and internet connectivity infrastructure as well, is considering contract manufacturing, one of the people said, or forming a majority-owned venture with automakers.
The initiative would be a step up from internet peers such as Tencent Holdings Ltd, Amazon.com, and Alphabet Inc, which have developed auto-related technology or invested in smart-car startups as well.
Baidu has held initial talks – without reaching any decisions – with automakers such as Zhejiang Geely Holding, Guangzhou Automobile Group, and FAW Group’s Hongqi, on a possible venture, the people said.
They refused to be identified as the talks are private.
Baidu refused to comment. GAC said it has a strategic partnership with Baidu and that any additional cooperation was subject to discussion. Geely said it was not knowledgeable of the matter. FAW is yet to comment.
Baidu established the autonomous driving unit Apollo in 2017. The unit mostly supplies technology powered by artificial intelligence and work with automakers such as Geely, Volkswagen, Toyota Motor, and Ford Motor.
Baidu operates autonomous taxi service Go Robotaxi with safety drivers on board in Beijing, Changsha, and Cangzhou, and prepares to expand to 30 cities in three years. It gained approval last week for testing five cars in Beijing without safety drivers.
Its talks about manufacturing come after Didi Chuxing last month introduced a purpose-built van for ride-hailing services with automaker BYD Co. Meanwhile, tech giant Sony Corp in January revealed an electric concept car with self-driving functions.
Building cars would indicate a dramatic development in Baidu’s push to diversify income streams as growth plateaus in its major search business, where revenue increased just 2% last year.