Baidu Chairman Sees `Enormous Gold Mine' in Autonomous Driving

  • Li urges Chinese government to establish self-driving laws
  • Chinese companies are in technology race with Google, Nissan

Baidu Inc. Chairman Robin Li, who is lobbying the Chinese government to accelerate the legal framework for autonomous driving, said self-piloted cars will deliver “enormous” profit for the Internet company.

“Autonomous driving is a huge business, in the future all cars will be self-driving,” Li said before attending a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. “It’ll definitely be an enormous gold mine.”

The race to bring to market self-piloting cars will depend in part on how receptive regulators are to the technology. In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month told Google Inc. it will interpret the company’s software as a “driver,” a step toward compliance with safety standards. The agency also plans a $4 billion grant program over 10 years to fund automated vehicle pilot projects.

Li and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Chairman Li Shufu wrote in separate proposals to the Chinese political advisory body that early establishment of a legal system governing autonomous driving would boost development of the technology and attract investment. China’s carmakers and technology companies are competing in the space with the likes of Google in the U.S., Daimler AG in Germany and Nissan Motor Co. in Japan.

“Autonomous driving technology brings along new challenge and opportunity to China’s automobile industry,” Geely’s Li said in his proposal to the CPPCC. “It is an urgent task to start preparing for the establishment of our legal framework.”

Baidu’s Li said last month that self-driving cars can become a commercial product in the next five years. The company said in December that a modified BMW 3 Series car successfully negotiated a 30-kilometer (18.6 miles) test drive around Beijing, which included complex actions such as U-turns, left turns, changing lanes, and merging into traffic from on-ramps.

Nissan, Japan’s second-largest automaker, plans to make autonomous-drive features available in its domestic market this year. Japan and Germany are proposing international standards through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

— With assistance by Tian Ying

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