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Buffett-backed BYD to use Baidu Apollo's autonomous driving technology in its EVs as it raises its game against Tesla, domestic rivals

·3 min read

BYD, China's biggest electric vehicle (EV) builder by sales, will enlist the help of Baidu's autonomous driving technology to make its cars more intelligent as it raises its game against Tesla and domestic rivals.

The Shenzhen-based maker of batteries and cars, which is 7.9 per cent owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has picked Baidu, China's biggest search engine and artificial intelligence company, to supply its ANP (Apollo Navigation Pilot) smart driving services and products, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

The two companies, which already have a joint venture in the EV arena, are expected to announce the new partnership this week.

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It will be an important step for Beijing-based Baidu too, as it strives to commercialise its Apollo self-driving technologies after nearly five year of development.

"BYD's EVs have a good reputation for their batteries and battery management system, but they have to catch up with Tesla and domestic smart EV start-ups in autonomous driving and other digital technologies fitted in the next-generation of cars," said Chen Jinzhu, CEO of Shanghai Mingliang Auto Service. "With advanced and sophisticated autonomous driving technologies, the vehicles can move up the value chain and be priced higher."

Baidu launched the world's largest open-source autonomous driving platform, Apollo, in 2017 and it has been a pioneer in developing driverless cars in mainland China.

The ANP, which debuted at the end of 2020, is now mainly used in Baidu's Robotaxis which are operating on a trial basis in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

The W6 sport-utility vehicle produced by mainland EV start-up WM Motor is the only mass-production model that features ANP technology.

It remains to be seen which level of autonomous driving the BYD vehicles fitted with ANP can reach.

In January 2021, Baidu and BYD set up Jidu Automotive, a joint-venture electric car company, as the technology giant joined the fray against Tesla and smart EV start-ups such as NIO, Xpeng and Li Auto.

The joint venture, 55 per cent owned by Baidu, announced at the beginning of this year that it would launch a production model that meets the level-4 (L4) autonomous driving standard in 2023.

According to SAE International, a global standardisation body, L4 autonomous driving does not require human intervention in most circumstances, but the driver still has the option to manually take over control of the car.

At present, most autonomous driving technologies in use are either classified as L2 or L2+, under which sensors are used to give a vehicle "environment detection" capability, with the vehicles able to decide whether to pass a slow-moving car.

Baidu plans to unveil a prototype of its mass-production model in April during the Beijing Auto Show.

BYD, established in 1995 as a battery manufacturer, began building cars in 2003 and has evolved into the mainland's largest new-energy vehicle maker.

In the fourth quarter of last year, global EV leader Tesla delivered a record 308,600 vehicles, up 27.9 per cent from the previous quarter.

BYD, controlled by its billionaire founder Wang Chuanfu, sold a record 266,204 pure-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles from October to December, 14 per cent short of Tesla's global sales in the same period.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.