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Tech firms, carmakers drive change
2018-02-26, LI FUSHENG

Carmakers are teaming up with technology companies to prepare for a future dominated by technologies like electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving.

“The automobile industry is clearly amid its most dramatic period of change,” said Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp, in a speech on Jan 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Our competitors no longer just make cars. Companies like Google, Apple, and even Facebook are what I think about at night because after all, we didn’t start out by making cars either,” he said.

At the event, the Japanese carmaker that started its business by making weaving looms adopted the “beat them or join them” strategy by announcing an alliance that includes members like Mazda, Amazon and China’s ride-hailing giant Didi Chu-xing.

They will collaborate on the e-Palette, an automated, electric, flexible vehicle concept by Toyota, which can be tailored to various needs and lifestyles, according to the carmaker.

Also at the Consumer Electronics Show, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich disclosed partnerships with SAIC Motor, saying the Chinese carmaker will develop Level 3, 4 and 5 cars in the country based on Intel’s Mobileye technology.

These were two of the latest examples of cross-industry cooperation that is becoming a prominent feature in the mobility sector.

A week earlier, a Honda Motor representative said the company is joining hands with Alibaba to develop a smart system that will allow drivers to make reservations using maps and pay via Alipay, Alibaba’s payment tool.

Alipay had some 520 million users by the end of 2017, and 82 percent of them used the platform at least once in the year, according to the mobile payment giant’s annual report.

In December 2017, Honda announced a five-year joint research and development plan with China-based artificial intelligence startup SenseTime Group to explore autonomous driving.

In the same month, BMW and Alibaba announced they would develop a range of “digitalized experiences for the car and home” for all new BMW models sold in China from the first half of 2018.

Their partnership came days after Ford Motor Co signed a deal with Alibaba to explore opportunities in Internet-connected cars, artificial intelligence, mobile services and digital marketing.

“The tech world has many innovations to offer us, so it (the future of mobility) will be a marriage of technology companies and automakers,” Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford said before the deal was signed.

Tech giants are not limiting their partnerships to traditional carmakers.

Alibaba has acquired a stake of around 10 percent in Xiaopeng Motors, an electric car startup that has just showcased in the United States its latest-generation model for mass production.

Tencent and Baidu have each invested billions of dollars in artificial intelligence, driving research and electric car startups including Nio and Weltmeister.

Baidu’s Apollo program, an autonomous driving platform unveiled in 2017, has attracted more than 70 Chinese and international companies, including Ford and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.

“Carmakers and IT companies are pushing back the frontiers of their business, moving in the direction to become comprehensive service providers,” China Business News quoted independent analyst Zhang Zhiyong as saying.

“So they are trying to permeate into each other and vie for a larger say in building the mobility system.”

 

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