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Volvo, Baidu partner to bring electric autonomous cars to China

Volvo will bring the cars, while Baidu will bring the tech.


Chinese internet giant Baidu has been making big moves in the autonomy space. First, it announced a partnership with Ford to develop and test self-driving cars in China, and now, it'll do the same thing with Volvo.

Volvo and Baidu on Thursday announced that the two companies will work together to jointly develop electric, autonomous cars for the Chinese market. The goal here is to create a mass-produced vehicle with Level 4 (mode-specific) autonomy that will serve China's ever-growing hunger for both electric and self-driving vehicles.

Volvo will provide its vast vehicular expertise, while Baidu will provide the platform to enable autonomy. Apollo, Baidu's platform, is an open-source framework that promises to speed the development of autonomous vehicles. Baidu has some 90 different partners in the Apollo project, including Bosch, Ford, Hyundai and Nvidia. It will be demonstrably cheaper and more efficient to work with Baidu's open-source autonomy platform than it would be for an automaker to develop a bespoke AV solution from scratch.

In its press release, Volvo pointed to research from IHS Markit that predicts China will become the biggest market for autonomous vehicles in the future, comprising nearly half of the global volume by 2040. The fruits of Volvo and Baidu's labor should break cover in the 2020s.

The Swedish automaker is no stranger to offering up its automotive know-how for autonomous-vehicle development. Volvo currently supplies Uber with a fleet of XC90 SUVs that the ride-hailing giant uses as the base for its self-driving tech.

But this partnership isn't about Volvo just giving Baidu some cars. Instead, it will create something from scratch. Automotive News reports that the SPA2 platform is the most likely candidate for Volvo and Baidu's new car, given that the company has said it hopes to establish Level 4 autonomy on that platform with the new XC90 SUV slated for 2021. Both its platforms will work with battery-electric powertrains, however, and nothing has been set in stone just yet.

Daimler was the first international automaker to receive a permit to test Level 4 autonomy in China in July, and Daimler is yet another partner involved in the Apollo project. Baidu is still in the process of securing its licenses for its AV tests with Ford, which will take place over the next two years, but those tests should begin later this year.  

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