Jidu, Baidu’s smart EV arm raises US$400 million to accelerate development of first production model with L4 autonomous driving technology

·3-min read

Jidu Automotive, the smart electric vehicle (EV) arm of Baidu, has received nearly US$400 million in the latest round of financing to support the development and production of a car with level 4 (L4) autonomous driving technology.

The company said on Wednesday that the capital was raised from its two shareholders – search engine and artificial intelligence firm Baidu and carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

It comes after a US$300 million capital injection in March when the smart EV builder was established by the two partners, with Baidu holding a 55 per cent stake and Geely the rest.

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Xia Yiping, chief executive of Jidu, said in the statement that the first production model would be a “benchmark-level product” and beat customers’ expectations.

A spy photo of Jidu Auto’s first vehicle under development. Photo: Handout
A spy photo of Jidu Auto’s first vehicle under development. Photo: Handout

In early January, Baidu became the first mainland company to give a clear time frame to launch a mass production car with L4 automation. A prototype of the new car is expected to be unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show in April, with mass production and delivery to start in 2023.

In most circumstances, L4 cars do not require human intervention, but the driver still has the option to manually override and take over control of the car, according to SAE International, a global standardisation body.

A clutch of Chinese EV start-ups such as Xpeng Motors and Li Auto are ramping up development of intelligent cars with L4 level autonomous driving capability.

“Capital is the most important powder needed by all carmakers involved in the EV war,” said Cao Hua, a partner at private equity firm Unity Asset Management. “With the money, Jidu’s focus will be on how to convince consumers of the L4 vehicle’s high performance next year.”

The fresh capital will be used to accelerate Jidu’s research and development and hire more talent in the fields of autonomous driving, smart cockpit and smart manufacturing, the company said.

Jidu is building the car based on Geely’s Sustainable Experience Architecture platform and Baidu’s AI technology. It will be powered by chips made by Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia.

Nvidia’s Drive Orin SoC chip is designed for software-defined vehicles and it enables continuous upgrades through over-the-air software updates. It can process 254 trillion operations per second.

Millions of young Chinese drivers are falling in love with intelligent battery-powered vehicles, with features such as voice recognition systems, parking and driving assistance and big touch screens.

Currently, most autonomous driving technology in use is either classified as L2 or L2+, under which sensors are used to give a vehicle “environment detection” capabilities, enabling it to decide whether to pass a slow-moving car.

It remains a far cry from full autonomous driving since the technology still requires human override, and the driver must be alert and ready to take control.

Tesla is now the runaway front-runner in smart EV sector on the mainland.

Last year, it delivered 321,000 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to customers in mainland China, 117 per cent higher than 2020.

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