Jidu Auto, the electric vehicle arm of Chinese search engine giant Baidu, is joining a long list of Chinese companies to take on Tesla by positioning the brand in the premium segment and highlighting its strength in autonomous driving tech.
In recent media appearances, Xia Yiping, chief executive of Jidu, stated that the new automaker can compete with Tesla by leveraging the data and algorithm prowess from its parent company.
A former tech lead of in-car connectivity at Fiat Chrysler, Xia noted that he believes the race among automakers to build intelligent vehicles has only just begun in China.
On Oct. 27, Jidu showcased a special version of its first consumer car Robo-01 that it made in partnership with Chinese automaker Geely. The company plans to launch the standard version next April, which Xia told TechNode could be “very competitive” on price (our translation). He also noted a short-term target of selling at least 10,000 vehicles monthly.
Below is the highlights from a group interview at the car launch event, which have been translated, condensed, and edited for clarity:
Is it too late for Jidu to enter the Chinese EV game as a new competitor?
The EV offerings from our competitors are far less diversified, especially regarding the intelligent and connected capabilities they can offer. The competition has just begun, which I believe will be more about the deployment of semiconductors, algorithms, and computing power rather than vehicle manufacturing, as time goes on, and that’s where our capabilities lie.
We are looking to be a serious player in the medium-to-high-end EV segment, especially in the price range of RMB 250,000 ($34,370) and above, and where in-car intelligent technology has been a major selling point. Our core users are young, educated, tech-savvy, and upper-middle class, and in that sense, there is a big competitive overlap between Jidu and Tesla.
If you compare Jidu’s Robo-01 with Tesla’s Model Y, I would say our vehicle provides a roomier and more luxurious interior, as well as a longer driving range.
Several competitors have already begun releasing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) for city environments. What is your advantage and how do you ensure the reliability of vehicle software?
(Note: Rival Xpeng Motors on Sept. 19 released its so-called City Navigation Guided Pilot, a feature similar to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving that allows vehicles to navigate on both highways and city streets. Huawei’s partner Arcfox closely followed with the release of its Navigation Cruise Assist (NCA) software a week later.)
Jidu’s advanced driver assistance capabilities, including those for highways and urban streets, will be fully ready once we begin vehicle delivery to customers later next year. All the variants of Robo-01 will be equipped with lidar sensors and applicable to all Jidu’s intelligent functionality.
We are developing the most advanced electrical and electronic architecture, where we must ensure the complexity of future vehicle systems and fulfill the higher demand for network bandwidth and functional safety. We run algorithms on Baidu’s supercomputers, and I think that’s one of our advantages.
Auto intelligence is not just about software engineering. You need to fully understand when it comes to where the semiconductor industry is headed and how sensors can better enable autonomous driving, among other fields. Not everyone can do that, but that’s in our DNA.
Jidu will begin delivery of Robo-01 later next year. Can you share insights on production plans, retail networks, and charging infrastructure?
Robo-01 is built based on Geely’s SEA (Sustainable Experience Architecture) platform. In early October, we aligned the production plan of Robo-01 for next year with our manufacturing partner and made reservations for many key components ahead of time.
(Note: In September 2020, Geely launched a modular, open-source vehicle platform for EVs called the Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA), which has been used to build its own EV sub-brands like Lynk & Co, Zeekr, and Polestar.)
We plan to sell our cars via a direct sales model in the early stages so that we can maintain control over our brand image. Jidu’s first flagship store is about to open in Shanghai and we plan to enter 46 domestic cities by 2023.
When it comes to charging networks, we are building a number of charging points along with our showrooms and service centers, but we will also collaborate with public EV charge point providers to expand our footprint.