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Global carmakers team up with Chinese internet firms

By LI FUSHENG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-11-26 09:00

Maserati unveils its new MC20 super sports car, a key release in a pipeline of new models, including hybrid and full electric ones, in Modena, Italy, on Sept 9, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

International carmakers are partnering with Chinese internet companies to offer in-car applications familiar to people in the country, as they compete for car buyers in the world's largest automotive market.

QQ music, a popular app in Chinese smartphones, became available last week in Maserati models sold in China, ranging from the Levante sport utility vehicle to the Quattroporte sedan.

This is just one example of the features available to Maserati's Chinese customers after the Italian carmaker introduced a connectivity system developed by Tencent.

Mirko Bordiga, managing director of Maserati China, said: "What you should do as a brand is to listen to your customers and offer them what they want."

The brand has more than 60,000 car owners in China and its market is growing thanks to the younger generation. Like many premium brands, Maserati's Chinese customers are the youngest compared with those in other parts of the world.

"Of course there are some elements that have to be localized in our cars, like the system we cooperated with Tencent," Bordiga said. "That is clearly just for Chinese customers."

German carmaker Audi is taking its cooperation with Alibaba to new heights. In a statement on Friday, the two companies said they will work together to improve in-car applications like navigation and digital assistant services.

"The alliance will enable Audi to better serve Chinese customers. It is further proof of our 'In China, For China' commitment," said Werner Eichhorn, president of China operations at Audi.

Audi's cooperation with Alibaba's navigation subsidiary NavInfo started in 2006. NavInfo will not only provide its products to the company, but also give research and development support for Audi's local innovations.

NavInfo President Liu Zhenfei said: "Since we are all facing the future of intelligent driving, we will for the first time provide our full capabilities to Audi, including our next-generation navigation technology and high-definition maps."

Besides navigation, Audi is including Alibaba's in-car digital assistant service Tmall Genie in the carmaker's self-developed connectivity platform.

Tmall Genie is a service-oriented smart assistant that aims to connect different terminals and platforms in fields like automobiles, real estate, smart homes and hotels.

Ku Wei, president of Tmall Genie, said: "Users can enjoy intelligent services simply with one ID. We will also explore more intelligent lifestyle options in vehicle scenarios with our carmaker partners. We hope to help car owners enjoy high-quality services conveniently." Tmall Genie has been available in BMW vehicles from 2019.

Last year, US carmaker Ford launched its China-specific infotainment system that leveraged Baidu's artificial intelligence for improved connectivity.

Joseph Liu, vice-president of Ford China, said: "Chinese consumers want their vehicles to be more intelligent and connected. To support this, Ford is working closely with Baidu to create the most trusted connectivity experience in China."

Roy Lu, director of the Gasgoo Auto Research Institute, said since international carmakers' connectivity and digitalized functions are developed for global markets, they do not work as well as those from the Chinese companies, who have a better understanding of local customer demand.

Besides the availability of outstanding local internet companies, the growth potential of the Chinese market is also fueling such collaboration. Similar partnerships are expected to become more commonplace in the future.

China has been the world's largest auto market since 2009, and it is the largest market for many brands, especially premium ones.

Audi's sales in China accounted for over 40 percent of global deliveries. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Audi sold more than 580,080 vehicles in China in the first 10 months this year, up 5.4 percent on a yearly basis.

Maserati is planning to launch its second SUV, the Grecale, in China in mid-2021. It will be the company's first global release in China. "This (debut) shows the importance of the Chinese market for us," Bordiga said. Maserati's first SUV, the Levante, has already been a success in the country.

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