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China tech

Ford and Baidu launch 2-year tie-up for on-road driverless tests

Partners will run fully-autonomous cars on Beijing's public roads

The Chinese tech giant and Ford, partners on the Apollo program, will test self-driving vehicles in Beijing. (Photo provided by Ford)

BEIJING -- Ford Motor and Chinese internet search leader Baidu will start testing driverless vehicles together in China by year-end, they said Wednesday, aiming to achieve the highly autonomous driving technology known as the level 4 in two years.

The partners will run vehicles in areas including Beijing public roads designated for self-driving tests, with an eye to expanding into other Chinese cities later on. The cars will be refined at Ford's research and development hub in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, and fitted with Baidu's automated driving software.

While China's top search engine operator is eager to tap the U.S. carmaker's technology, Ford seeks to reinvigorate its business in the world's biggest auto market in light of a sales slowdown.

"Working with a leading tech partner like Baidu allows us to leverage new opportunities in China," Sherif Marakby, the CEO of Ford's autonomous vehicle unit, said in a statement.

"This project will combine our leading-edge technological know-how and understanding of China together with Ford's vehicle expertise," said Zhenyu Li, vice president of Baidu's Intelligent Driving Group.

The goal is to have vehicles run completely autonomously in limited areas and under certain conditions -- the fourth of the five levels of driving automation under standards set by U.S. industry organization SAE International.

Ford is a founding member of the Apollo alliance, the automated driving program Baidu launched last year with financial support from China's central government as a national project. Other partners include Germany's Daimler and Japan's Honda Motor, as well Microsoft and Intel of the U.S. Ford and Baidu teamed up last June to develop smart speakers for cars.

The American automaker is suffering from slumping popularity in China, where unit sales for the nine months through September fell nearly 30% from the year-earlier period, amid Washington's ongoing trade war with Beijing. By deepening its partnership with Baidu, Ford aims to lay the groundwork for the self-driving era in the Chinese market.

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