China's Baidu Mulls Autonomous Car
A file photograph of Baidu boss Robin Li Reuters

Baidu, the owner of China's largest internet search engine, has jumped on the self-driving car bandwagon and could introduce an autonomous car in 2015.

Baidu has been researching the smart car and is working with auto manufacturers, chief executive officer Robin Li said in Beijing on 10 March. Li is attending meetings of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. But he refused to name the automaker partners. Li also said his firm will roll out lending applications very soon, without providing further details.

Han Weiqi, an analyst with CSC International Holdings in Shanghai, told Bloomberg: "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."

Earlier in March, China's information technology and industry minister Miao Wei said he will encourage companies outside the traditional auto industry to collaborate with manufacturers to spur innovation and competition.

Baidu joins technology giants Apple, Sony, Google and China's Leshi Internet Information & Technology in developing connected vehicles.

Apple has been working on an electric vehicle and is reportedly pushing to kick-start production by 2020. Sony joined the self-driving car revolution following an investment in the Japan-based robot car startup ZMP in February. Google said in January it aims to have a self-driving car on the road within five years.

Leshi, a maker of web-enabled TVs, has said it will invest billions of dollars into developing a connected electric car. In December 2014, it applied for a licence to produce an electric car in the world's largest auto market.