There is no shortage of news these days about China's tech giants teaming up with traditional automakers. Companies from Alibaba to Huawei are struggling to become relevant in the trillion-dollar auto industry that seeks an electric transition and a smart upgrade even as 5G ages.
State-owned automaker SAIC Motor, a major player in China, this week unveiled a new electric vehicle arm called Zhiji, in which Alibaba and a Shanghai government-backed company are minority shareholders. The link comes about as Chinese EV startups like Xpeng and Nio and their predecessor Tesla have seen their stocks spike in recent months.
Alibaba's relationship with SAIC can be traced back to 2015 when they jointly announced a $ 160 million investment in internet-connected cars. The partners formed a joint venture called Banma (or "Zebra") and Alibaba has since developed a number of car solutions for the Banma platform that enable everything from voice-activated navigation to voice ordering of coffee, which of course is coffee connected to the Alipay E-wallet.
Alibaba is certainly not SAIC's exclusive supplier as it has also worked closely with BMW and Audi over the years.
For SAIC's new EV brand, Alibaba will continue to be the “technology solutions provider,” an Alibaba spokesman told TechCrunch.
The other tech giant making big strides in the car is Huawei. Just this week, the telecommunications equipment and smartphone maker announced that it would integrate its smart car unit into its consumer group of companies that previously focused on cell phones. The expanded group will continue to be controlled by Richard Yu, who is widely recognized as the man who helped transform Huawei from an outsider in the wireless industry to a leading global player.
Huawei's goal in the auto space is "not to make cars, but to focus on developing ICT (information and communication technology) to help automakers make cars," the statement said and leaves on rumors that want to intervene in the lawn of traditional automakers.
Huawei's phone business has taken a hit since US sanctions hampered the supply chain. The company recently sold its budget phone brand Honor in the hopes that the Huawei-independent spin-off will be free of trade restrictions.