Baidu has revved up development of its first electric vehicle (EV) production model as the search giant prepares to premiere a prototype in April next year, amid rapid growth in China’s EV market. A clay model for the vehicle has been completed four months after Baidu and Geely put their car-making joint venture Jidu Auto into operation, the Beijing-based company said in a statement on Thursday. Chief executive Robin Li said he wants to shorten development time of the new model to showcase Baidu’s latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. “We hope that our AI technologies [used on the smart vehicles] can be launched onto the market as soon as they are ready,” Li said in the statement, without mentioning a time frame for the launch of its first mass production model. “Baidu’s approach towards AI technology has always revolved around delivering equitable outcomes by making technology more accessible, providing freedom and possibilities for all,” Li told the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai on Thursday. Xia Yiping, chief executive of Jidu, told reporters in June that a prototype would debut at the Beijing Auto Show in April next year. “The company appears to be on a fast track in developing a new intelligent vehicle,” said Chen Jinzhu, chief executive of Shanghai Mingliang Auto Service, which sells car insurance and second-hand vehicles. “It normally takes two to three years to develop a new model.” Tesla, Chinese start-ups eclipse Toyota, VW in the world’s largest EV market A full-size clay vehicle is an integral part of the development process for carmakers with every detail of a car, from the windows and door handles to slight creases in the bonnet, sculpted into clay first. Baidu announced a foray into the EV sector in January, three years after it began Apollo, the world’s largest open-source autonomous-driving platform. The tech giant is hoping to harness its AI technologies as it builds an EV presence, in a market where electrification and digitalisation are redrawing the industry’s landscape. More than 200 partners including global brands Ford and BMW as well as car component suppliers and start-ups, are developing self-driving technologies for Baidu’s Apollo platform. Baidu is going up against established carmakers such as Tesla, and a clutch of Chinese smart EV start-ups, in a fast-growing mainland market expected to sell 6.6 million battery-powered vehicles in 2025, an almost six-fold increase from last year. Understanding China's EV market Tesla currently dominates the premium segment of China’s EV market, followed by its Chinese rivals NIO, Xpeng and Li Auto, all of which sell mid-sized or high-end intelligent vehicles that are priced at more than 200,000 yuan (US$30,860). Baidu’s first production model is expected to be priced at more than 200,000 yuan. “The Chinese EV industry will see tremendous changes in the next few years as many new and disruptive technologies are melded into next-generation cars,” said Holly Lei, president of Covestro in China, a supplier of polymer products to major car assemblers. “Baidu and other major players, including conventional internal combustion engine carmakers and start-ups, have displayed a quick innovation pace with their products.” She added that Covestro is also continuing to innovate with its products to meet EV market changes. Li also told the AI conference that he wants Apollo Moon, the newest version of Baidu’s robotaxi, to be a fully autonomous ride-hailing service across 30 cities in China in two to three years’ time.