Tesla Announces it Will Use Baidu Maps in its China-Made Vehicles

Tesla Announces it Will Use Baidu Maps in its China-Made Vehicles

Author: Eric Walz   

While Google Maps is generally the most popular way people get driving directions in the U.S., in China the use of Google Maps is restricted along with other popular Google services such as Gmail. Also blocked are popular U.S.-based social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. 

The restrictions on Google Maps have forced U.S. electric automaker Tesla to find an alternate mapping provider for its vehicles in China. 

Tesla announced in a post on its official Chinese Weibo account that it will use Baidu's mapping services for its vehicles in China. The Chinese microblogging platform Wiebo is the equivalent of Twitter in the U.S.

In Tesla's post on Weibo, the company said that its map data service provider will be replaced by Baidu so Tesla owners can have a "better driving experience on the road."

Presumably, all of the The Model 3 sedans built at Tesla's new factory in Shanghai will use maps from Baidu for Tesla's built-in navigation and route planning, as well as finding EV charging locations along the way.

Baidu is one of the world's biggest tech companies and the equivalent of Google in China and its presence in China is huge. Baidu Maps first launched in 2005 and has over 350 million monthly users. 

Baidu is developing its own self-driving cars under the the open Apollo platform using its own maps, including HD maps for autonomous driving. To build its maps, Baidu uses data supplied by NavInfo, MapKing, Here, LocalKing, as well as the free to use OpenStreetMap

Baidu maps in China is highly detailed including 3D view of some cities. However its only available in the Chinese language, so its difficult to users outside of China or for foreign visitors.


Tesla's Baidu Maps announcement on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Currently Tesla uses Google for most of its mapping needs in the rest of the world, but adds it own local map data, features and functionality on top of the data supplied by Google. Tesla once used Navigon for its own map data.

Even if China eventually allowed the use of Google Maps in the future, Tesla would likely have no choice but to use Baudi's maps anyway. The "Surveying and Mapping Law of the People's Republic of China" amended in August 2002 limits how new maps can be created in China. 

Baidu's maps in China are built using the official GCJ-02 coordinate system, which is different than in the United States. The U.S. Global Positioning System coordinates are expressed using the more common WGS-84 standard. If this standard is plotted on street maps of China built using the GCJ-02 coordinates, they can appear off by up to 500 meters.

Article 2 of the law states that "all surveying and mapping activities in the territorial air, land and waters of the People's Republic of China shall be conducted in compliance with this law." This is partly due to national security concerns.

Tesla also announced what it says is a "big wave of surprise updates" on the road and asked its Weibo followers to try and guess what it is in order to win a small gift from Tesla.

In September, Baidu made headlines when it announced the world's first AI-based map voice customization that allows users to add a custom voice to Baidu Maps for turn-by-turn navigation. In a promotional video released in November, a father commuting home replaces the default voice on Baidu Maps for turn-by-turn directions with his daughter's voice to guide him home.

Baidu has also been working with state-owned China Southern Power Grid and EV charging infrastructure provider Tgood to launch a map that includes EV charging locations.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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