Date: 11/18/2019 – Author: Thomas Bott
Reading time: 4 minutes

Technology and mobility increasingly converging

Only a few decades ago, cars primarily used mechanical parts and had limited digital technology built into their systems. The battery was used to start the combustion engine and to power devices like the radio and headlights. Today, the world already looks quite different, with technology playing a major role in modern vehicles — turning cars into control centers with countless digital systems.

From extensive infotainment with navigation systems, internet connectivity, and voice control capabilities, to the many practical driver assistance systems. Today, several kilometres of wires are built into cars, along with numerous control units. In the coming years, this will only increase with autonomous driving requiring even more cameras, sensors and even lasers.

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Important partners for digitalization

In order to meet customers’ digital needs and not lose connectivity, many automotive companies are working together with technology companies. This guarantees that innovations are constantly being introduced into the models — in some cases, even exclusively. This is particularly important for infotainment systems, where demand is constantly rising.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are important for many users who want to use their smartphones in the car, with streaming services replacing traditional media sources. What’s more, some companies not only bring tech partners on board, but even equip their ranks with experts from the industry.


Technology companies get involved

In recent years, the media have speculated time and again about whether Apple might be working on its own vehicle. However, there is still no concrete evidence of the existence of an “iCar.” But it is confirmed that the Cupertino-based company is working on its own technology for autonomous vehicles. The Alphabet subsidiary Google, on the other hand, introduced its own concept car a long time ago — seeming not to be completely averse to the idea.

In Germany, too, more and more technology companies and suppliers are developing their own technology, mostly in the realm of autonomous vehicles. Electric mobility seems to reduce the barriers to entry. However, the strongest development can probably be seen in China, where the efforts of the corporations are even more extensive.


Tencent invests on a massive scale

In its strategy, Tencent wants to focus on the mobility sector much more in the future. In January 2019, the company confirmed its cooperation with the Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC). Together with Tencent and other partners, the state-owned vehicle manufacturer set up a joint venture with a starting capital of around $150 million. The cooperation is intended to promote new mobility concepts and digitize existing solutions to a greater extent.

In mid-2019, Tencent also launched a new department under its operations. The new department deals with the topic of “Smart Mobility.” This includes smart infotainment systems, mobile payment, cloud services, and more. Tencent wants to offer its technology to as many different manufacturers as possible.

(© 2019 Getty Images)

Alibaba is already in big business

What started out as a B2B platform is now one of the largest technology companies in the world. Alibaba operates numerous subsidiaries, including the B2C platform AliExpress, the payment service AliPay, and the Taobao auction house. Alibaba AI Labs is another one of the companies set up by the industry giant, where the AI it develops communicates with people in the form of the language assistant Tmall Genie. Companies such as Audi, Renault, and Honda use this technology in models for the Chinese market.

Alibaba even built a car with another partner. The RX5 of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) was developed in close cooperation with the group. The vehicle, which launched in 2016, contains smart technology that adapts light, music, and target suggestions to the respective user. There are also up to four 360-degree cameras on board to record the journey or for selfies.

Alibaba also invested heavily in Hello TransTech via its subsidiary Ant Financial. The company has been renting bicycles in China for several years, and a carpooling service has been a part of the offer since the beginning of 2019. Hello TransTech’s primary aim is to compete with Didi Chuxing.

(© 2019 Getty Images)

Baidu searches for new business sectors

The competition has already shown that it is not enough for internet giants to concentrate purely on digital business. It’s also about developing technology for other industries. Baidu, the Chinese counterpart to Google, is also interested in mobility issues. To this end, the company recently entered into what may be a powerful partnership with Geely. The group brings together several brands, including Lotus and Volvo, which are already well known in the West.

Together, the companies want to develop intelligent vehicles. Here, too, the focus is on artificial intelligence. Together with the commercial vehicle manufacturer King Long, Baidu has already tested the technology. More than 100 buses with “Apollo” technology have already rolled off the assembly line. However, such milestones should only be the beginning for the companies.