China's Baidu is considering making its own electric vehicles and has held talks with automakers about the possibility, said three people with knowledge of the matter, the latest move in a race among tech firms to develop smart cars.
The search engine leader, which also develops autonomous driving technology and internet connectivity infrastructure, is considering contract manufacturing, one of the people said, or creating a majority-owned venture with automakers.
Baidu has held preliminary talks — without reaching any decisions — with automakers including Zhejiang Geely Holding, Guangzhou Automobile and China FAW's Hongqi, on a possible venture, the people said, declining to be identified as the talks were private.
Baidu declined to comment. GAC said it has a strategic partnership with Baidu and that any further cooperation is subject to discussion. Geely said it was not familiar with the matter. FAW did not respond to a request for comment.
Baidu established the autonomous driving unit Apollo in 2017. The unit mainly supplies technology powered by artificial intelligence and work with automakers such as Geely, Volkswagen, Toyota Motor and Ford Motor.
Baidu operates autonomous taxi service Go Robotaxi with safety drivers on board in Beijing, Changsha and Cangzhou, and plans to expand to 30 cities in three years. It gained approval last week to test five cars in Beijing without safety drivers.
Its talks regarding manufacturing come after Didi Chuxing last month launched a purpose-built van for ride-hailing services with automaker BYD Co. Meanwhile tech giant Sony in January unveiled an electric concept car with self-driving functions.
Building cars would represent a dramatic development in Baidu's push to diversify income streams as growth plateaus in its core search business, where revenue grew just 2% last year.