Many people are likely unaware that the entire world does not “Google” things when they want to conduct an Internet search. There are still four places around the globe where Google is in second place: Russia, China, South Korea and the Czech Republic. The search engines that dominate in these locations are essentially regional players with little desire for Google level world domination of search.
Yandex, Russia’s search engine has initiatives in Turkey and Egypt, but for the most part those are for strategic reasons. Even with a complete English index, Yandex does not promote itself as a Google or even Bing alternative, and most English language searchers are unware that this option even exists. (Yandex’s English language search is one of the sources in DuckDuckGo’s search engine.) Similarly, Baidu, the leading search engine in China, while it has outposts in Brazil and Indonesia, also doesn’t aim to become a global search engine.
Except, Baidu is not just a search engine; Baidu is a technology conglomerate just like Google. As a tech giant, they do have global aspirations, and this could be a big problem for Google.
Baidu also has their ‘moonshot’ department and even made their own version of Google Glass.
One of the Baidu moonshots is self-driving cars which is not a surprising endeavor for a Chinese tech company with a market cap of $63 billion. The real shocker is where they are building these self-driving cars: Sunnyvale, California, right down the street from Google’s headquarters.
The US arm of Baidu is called Baidu USA and autonomous cars are one of the two business lines that the company operates. Why is Baidu in Silicon Valley and not Pittsburgh which has a reputation as a self-driving mecca? (Ask Uber if you need confirmation.) Maybe because autonomous vehicle technology is a game of winner take all?
If Baidu can succeed at bringing to market autonomous cars that are as good or better than any competitors, they will be able to close out the world’s largest potential car market to anyone else. And, if they can dominate the Chinese market, they can also own other major markets around the world. Building on this assumption, Baidu’s efforts in autonomous car technology are not just to bring the best product to market, but also to prevent Google from doing so before them.
A quick look through the LinkedIn profiles of employees at Baidu USA that proclaim to work on self-driving car technology shows very similar backgrounds and skillsets to the self-driving engineers at Google. Engineering recruiting is already a significant challenge in Silicon Valley, and finding the specialized engineers for autonomous vehicle projects is even harder. The head to head competition for the same talent means that there likely can be only one winner, and it will be the company with the deepest pockets and the greatest desire to win.
So, who will it be? Google recently took a hit to their share price because of some of their moonshots, but Baidu doesn’t operate under the same scrutiny. Will we be seeing Chinese autonomous cars in US dealer showrooms in the next decade? What do you think?