Exclusive-Baidu's Jidu Auto to invest $7.7 billion in 'robot' smart cars


People walk near a Baidu logo at the company headquarters in Beijing, China April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Florence Lo

BEIJING (Reuters) -Jidu Auto, an electric vehicle venture between China's tech giant Baidu and Chinese automaker Geely, aims to plough 50 billion yuan ($7.7 billion) into producing smart cars over the next five years, its chief executive told Reuters.

Xia Yiping said on Friday that the funding would come from Baidu and other investors and 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 this up.

Its first EV 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 co-founded and served as chief technology officer at Chinese bike-sharing firm Mobike until it was acquired by Meituan in 2018.

Baidu's Hong Kong-listed shares jumped as much as 1.34% after Reuters reported Jidu's investment plan.

The launch of the new auto company in January comes as tech companies around the world are racing to develop smart cars after Tesla's success in commercializing EVs.

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

Shanghai and Beijing based Jidu 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, hopes to make cars in Hangzhou Bay in China's eastern city of Ningbo, where Geely has several 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 currently owns 55% of Jidu and Geely has a 45% stake.

Jidu is considering using chips designed by Baidu, which has over the years developed smart car technologies including autonomous driving, high-definition maps and cloud. Baidu first established its autonomous driving unit Apollo in 2017.

Smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp and telecom giant Huawei Technologies are among other Chinese tech giants harbouring auto ambitions.

($1 = 6.4939 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang, Yilei Sun and Tony Munroe in Beijing; Editing by Ana Nicolaci and Alexander Smith)

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