There is no shortage of reports these days about China’s tech giants teaming up with conventional car manufacturers. Companies from Alibaba to Huawei are aiming to become important to the trillion-dollar auto industry, which is itself searching for an electric transformation and smart upgrade as 5G ages.
This week, state-owned automaker SAIC Motor, a major player in China, unveiled a new electric vehicle arm called Zhiji, in which Alibaba and a government-sponsored agency in Shanghai are minority shareholders. The tie-up is coming as Chinese EV startups like Xpeng and Nio and their predecessor Tesla see their stocks soaring in recent months.
The partnership between Alibaba and SAIC can be traced back to 2015, when they jointly announced a $160 million investment in Internet-connected vehicles. The partners went on to form a joint venture named Banma (or “Zebra”), and Alibaba has since developed a series of auto solutions for the Banma platform to allow anything from voice-activated navigation to voice ordering coffee, which is of course, connected to the Alipay e-wallet.
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Alibaba is definitely not the sole supplier of SAIC, as it has also worked closely with BMW and Audi over the years.
Alibaba will continue to be its “technology solution provider” for SAIC’s new EV brand, Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The other tech giant that’s making big moves in the car is Huawei. Just this week, telecommunications equipment and mobile manufacturers revealed that they would fold their smart car unit into their consumer business division, which previously concentrated on handsets. The enlarged group will continue to be headed by Richard Yu, seen as the man who helped Huawei rise from an underdog in the mobile industry to a leading global player.
Huawei’s goal in the automotive sector is not to produce cars but to concentrate on the advancement of ICT [information and communications technology] to assist car manufacturers in the production of cars,” the company said in its statement, addressing rumors that it wants to intrude on conventional car manufacturers’ turf.
Huawei’s phone sector has been hit after U.S. sanctions hobbled its supply chain. It recently sold its budget phone brand Honor in the expectation that the spinoff, independent of Huawei, would be free from trade barriers.
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