EXCLUSIVE-Baidu's auto venture to invest $7.7 bln into smart cars over next five years-CEO


By Yingzhi Yang, Yilei Sun and Tony Munroe

BEIJING, April 23 (Reuters) - Jidu Auto, the electric vehicle venture between China's tech giant Baidu 9888.HK and Chinese automaker Geely GEELY.UL, aims to pour 50 billion yuan ($7.70 billion) into making smart cars over the next five years, Jidu's chief executive told Reuters on Friday.

Xia Yiping said Jidu would aim to launch its first electric vehicle (EV) in three years, as is standard for the industry, but would make efforts to speed up that process.

Its first model would look like a "robot" and would target young customers, Xia said, adding that Jidu would analyse big market data before deciding on a final model.

"It will make you feel like it's a robot that can communicate with you with emotions," said Xia, who joined Jidu from Chinese bike-sharing firm Mobike, a company he co-founded.

The launch of the new auto company in January comes as many tech companies around the world are racing to develop smart cars after Tesla Inc's TSLA.O success in commercialising EV's.

Jidu plans to release a new model every year or every one-and-a-half years after the first one is launched, Xia said, without offering a sales target. It plans to hire 2,500 to 3,000 people over the next two to three years, including 400 to 500 software engineers.

The company, which is based in Shanghai and Beijing, also plans to roll out its branding in the third quarter of 2021, Xia said.

Xia said Jidu, which will use Geely's open-source electric vehicle platform to develop cars, hopes to make cars in Hangzhou Bay in China's eastern city of Ningbo, where Geely has several car plants. It plans to sell its car directly to customers to begin with, without using dealerships.

Chinese search engine company Baidu in January announced it would set up the company with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to leverage its intelligent driving expertise and Geely's car manufacturing capabilities. Baidu owns 55% of Jidu and Geely has a 45% stake in the company.

Baidu has over the years developed a swathe of smart car technologies including autonomous driving technologies, high-definition map as well as cloud. It first established its autonomous driving unit Apollo in 2017.

Smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp 1810.HK and telecom firm Huawei Technologies HWT.UL are among other Chinese tech giants harbouring auto ambitions.

Jidu is considering using the Baidu-designed Kunlun chip in its upcoming car models.

($1 = 6.4939 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang, Yilei Sun and Tony Munroe in Beijing)

((Yingzhi.Yang@thomsonreuters.com; +861056692133;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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