Baidu is planning to introduce a self-driving car this year, according to its CEO Robin Li in Beijing today. The Chinese search engine company is the latest to join Google in the pursuit to develop autonomous vehicles.

Baidu logo

Last January, Google said its objective is to bring its self-driving cars running on the roads within five years.

In his remarks at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, Li said Baidu has been engaged in the research and development of smart cars. The company is also working with automakers in the project.

When asked to provide more details regarding Baidu’s work and partnerships in developing a self-driving car, Li declined to name the automaker partners in the project.

Li also indicated that Baidu will also start rolling out lending applications and services soon, but he did not provide further details regarding the matter.

Moody’s upgraded rating for Baidu

Moody’s Investor Services recently upgraded its rating for Baidu from Stable to Positive based in its positive revenue and cash flows. Last year, Baidu posted a 30% increase in operating cash flow to $2.85 billion (RMB 17.9 billion). The company also increased its cash flow from $3.3 billion to nearly $5 billion last year. Its EBITDA remained at 2.0x.

Lina Choi, a senior analyst at Moody’s said, “We expect Baidu to maintain a steady trajectory for revenue growth in the next 12-18 months, which would further strengthen its liquidity and operating cash flow, despite the continuous decline in the company’s profit margin.”

The ratings agency estimated that Baidu would be able to achieve $12.75 billion or RMB 80 billion in revenue for the fiscal 2016.

Partnerships can spur innovation in the auto industry

Last week, Miao Wei, Minister of Information Technology and Industry in China expressed his comment regarding the increasing interest of large corporation in the field of robotics and autonomous cars.

According to Minister Wei, the agency would encourage Chinese firms outside the traditional auto industry to partner with existing original equipment manufacturers (OEMS) and automakers to boost innovation and competition.

On the other hand, Han Weiqi, an analyst at CSC International Holdings in Shanghai commented,

“Marrying traditional and the cutting edge can speed up the evolution of the auto industry. IT companies have an edge in areas like big data, cloud technology and Internet of things, where traditional automakers are weak.”

Leshi Internet Information & Technology (Beijing) Co., manufacturer of Web-enable televisions previously expressed its plan to invest billions of dollars to develop a connected electric vehicle.

Apple Car speculations

There are also speculations that Apple is working on developing its own electric car under a top-secret project called “Titan.”  A previous report also suggested that the tech giant would acquire Tesla Motors for $75 billion over the next 18 months.

Another recent report also suggested that Apple will start producing electric cars by 2020. Some executives in the auto industry commented on the speculations including former GM CEO Dan Akerson, who warned that Apple should “think carefully if they want to get into the hard-core manufacturing.”

Elmar Degenhart, CEO of Continental AG said his company is willing to partner with Apple once it decides to build a car. Continental specializes in automotive safety, brakes system, chassis components, vehicle electronics, power trains and tires.