Baidu has invested at least $100m in high-end Chinese electric carmaker NextEV, as the search engine group looks to boost flagging revenue by diversifying into artificial intelligence and unmanned cars.

The investment in NextEV was the first made by Baidu Capital, the search engine’s $3bn investment fund set up in October to expand the company’s footprint in internet-based technologies, writes Emily Feng in Beijing.

“Baidu Group is very supportive of this investment and look forward to future business co-operation with NextEV,” said Baidu.

Local Chinese news reports have said Baidu’s investment could be as high as $600m, but the groups would only confirm that the figure was a nine-digit dollar sum.

NextEV has emerged as one of the flashier players in China’s highly fragmented electric car industry. Last October, NextEV opened its US headquarters in Silicon Valley headed by Padmasree Warrior, former chief technology and strategy officer at US IT group Cisco. NextEV manufactures one of the world’s speediest all-electric racing cars, the NIO EP9.

Despite early investments in autonomous cars, Baidu has hit numerous speed bumps in its development of driverless technology. A partnership with BMW to design a driverless prototype was cancelled in 2016.

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