Written by Theo Koenig – January 18, 2021
Reviewed by Asaf Kedem
The tech world’s encroachment into the automotive sector was on display again this week after Geely and Baidu announced a partnership aimed at developing intelligent and electric vehicles.
Geely Automotive, one of China’s leading automotive manufacturers, was founded not too long ago—in 1997—as a subsidiary of the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (ZGH). Currently based in Hangzhou, China, Geely Automotive has a market capitalization of $40.95 billion – a rather remarkable achievement for a company founded not 25 years ago, especially in the automotive world. In comparison, Mercedes-Benz, whose parent company Daimler AG agreed just last week to sell a 50% stake in Smart to Geely, were founded in 1883. Daimler AG’s market capitalization currently sits at $75.76 billion.
Geely’s owner, ZHG Group, traces its origins back to 1986 as a manufacturer of refrigerator parts, but is now one of the world’s largest international automotive conglomerates. ZGH are not only the owners of Volvo Cars (acquired from Ford in 2009) but also the full owners of Lynk and Co., the owners of the London Electric Vehicle Company (famous for its London black taxis); and the lead shareholders in Lotus (British sports car manufacturer), Proton (Malaysia’s national car brand), and now Smart (German producer of microcars).
Baidu will have been quick to jump on the opportunity to partner with Geely’s Automotive division. Baidu Inc., also a Chinese firm, is based in Beijing and was founded in 2000. They are known for specializing in internet search engines, information platforms and AI technologies. With nearly 70% of the Chinese search engine market share, Baidu is by far China’s biggest search engine provider. Following in the footsteps of other internet giants such as Amazon, Alphabet (parent company of Google), and perhaps soon Apple, Baidu will deepen their interest in creating connected electric vehicles through this partnership.
Information specifically related to the partnership between the two giants remains scarce. Officially, the announcement was only released on January 11, 2020. What’s grabbed attention so far is that the partnership will utilize Geely’s all-electric Sustainable Experience Architecture drive platform. The SEA platform, which Geely plan to use for most of their future electric vehicles, was unveiled in September 2020. It took 4 years in the making, but has the advantage of being modular – meaning it can be adapted to all kinds of vehicles that Geely plan on launching in the future, including SUVs, city cars, sports cars, or trucks. This encompasses being adaptable to different kinds of e-motors, batteries and charging ecosystems, according to Geely Automotive. As well as this, the production method has been greatly enhanced and production time for the SEA is said to have been reduced by “more than 50%.” Finally, the platform has been developed with the goal of achieving “highly autonomous driving” by 2023 in mind, according to the announcement.
Meanwhile, Baidu will bring its vast autonomous technologies created for the Apollo driving project. Under this project, Baidu provides level 4 autonomous driving systems for the minibus Apolong. The all-electric bus had its inaugural drive on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in Spring of 2018 and officially entered mass production in July of 2018. While vehicle manufacturing is handled by King Long, a Chinese bus manufacturer, Baidu is responsible for providing the autonomous piloting system.
Apollo is furthermore developing a fully autonomous Robotaxi. The service is already available to the public on Baidu Maps in the capital city of the Hunan province, Changsha, as well as Cangzhou in the Hebei province, and soon the city of Guangzhou. As of July 2020, the company has surpassed 6 million kilometers in urban road testing with a fleet of 500 test vehicles across 24 cities worldwide.
As if this wasn’t enough, Baido Apollo also develops smart traffic signals that optimize traffic congestion in major cities. They also provide the operating system DuerOS for Apollo vehicles, as well as an automobile cloud which includes a Git repository and a variety of datasets for developers to test their code and algorithms. Currently the two open datasets are from Silicon Valley, California and Daoxian Lake, Beijing and include LiDAR scans, camera images, GPS trajectories.
Auto Trendy’s take:
There is undoubtedly much more to uncover regarding both of these companies and the specific details of their partnership. Which automotive sectors the companies plan on targeting specifically remains unclear.
Nevertheless, it is plain to see that Chinese automotive technologies are advancing at an incredible pace, although it should be emphasized that Geely and Baido are entering a fiercely competitive and saturated market. In comparison to the similar projects involving technology and automotive firms from Silicon Valley, however, the Geely-Baido partnership offers technologies that are superior in terms of overall development, production and urban testing. Uber recently sold off its autonomous division, while Waymo, Cruise, or Zoox are very far off from the 6 million kilometers already driven by Baidu. Furthermore, none of these North American projects offer ride-hailing services close to anything developed under Baidu Maps. As well as this, none of the other partnerships possess an electric platform that has already entered mass production or is anywhere near as adaptable as that offered by Geely.