With Plans to Take Drivers Out, China’s Alibaba Puts Internet in Cars

In what is being termed as “the world’s first mass-produced car on the internet”, two of China’s biggest household brands have teamed up to create a smart technology based sports utility vehicle (SUV).

The SUV named the Roewe RX5 is a joint production effort of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and SAIC Motor, the country’s biggest car manufacturer. The SUV is to be launched this week and it is decked up with smart technology from Alibaba’s operating system YunOS.

The RX5 is reportedly YunOS’ first auto partnership and was first unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show in April this year.

Several prominent Chinese smartphones brands, including Meizu and Duowei use the YunOS operating system which was created in 2011.

Alibaba claimed in April that the YunOS operating system (OS) would soon replace Apple’s iOS as the second biggest in the mainland China and had added that YunOS was the third-biggest operating system in the world with 40 million users as of 2015. These were reported in the local media local at the time. China’s most popular OS is still Google’s Android.

Bill Russo, managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Company, told CNBC’s “The Rundown” that the auto market is increasingly getting merged with the internet industry and connectivity, electric power and autonomous driving were the three principal themes for the auto industry.

An example of how big data is being employed to improve driver’s daily needs and mobility habits is the RX5.

Stressful driver experiences, such as negotiating traffic or undertaking maintenance, would be transformed into enjoyable moments by the car’s data capabilities as promised by SAIC and Alibaba.

“The RX5 will be able suggest alternate routes in the case of road closures or traffic as well as a more personalized experience in the car,” Russo said.

While there’s already heavy competition to win the hearts of mainland China consumers, China is set to become a key adopter of these trends and is already the world’s largest car market.

While South Korea’s Kia Motors has partnered with Google to tap the latter’s Android Auto operating system, Apple’s recent $1 billion investment into ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing have led many to question whether the two companies would produce an internet-based vehicle. On the other hand a self-driving concept car, called the LeSEE has been developed by Chinese online video firm LeEco.

Russo said that the traditional rivalry between car and auto makers is no longer the real rivalry in the car market.

While pointing to YunOS, iOS and Android Auto as examples, he said: “It’s a battle for the connected-car operating system.”

He added that Alibaba and SAIC’s biggest competitor was Apple when it came to China.

Russo continued that with the aim to position a potential Apple car in China, Apple’s investment in Didi was a strategic move. However even though Google had invested in Uber, it was not a threat because the search engine remains blocked in the mainland, Russo noted.

(Adapted from CNBC & Reuters)

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