Representatives of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and SAIC Motor Corp sign on a jointly developed internet-enabled vehicle, which was launched on June 6, 2016 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, while Alibaba's Executive Chairman Jack Ma (left) looks on. [Photo/China Daily]
It seems a long shot to replace smartphones with cars. But Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is heading in that direction. It unveiled on Wednesday a new internet-enabled vehicle equipped with the e-commerce giant's YunOS operating system.
The car, which is dubbed the first internet car to go into mass production, is part of a partnership that Alibaba and SAIC Motor Corp, one of China's major car manufacturers, inked about two years ago.
Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba, described the vehicle as a milestone product that marks the beginning of the so-called internet of everything－an era in which everything is connected to everything else via the internet.
"Just like what the smartphone does to our life－about 80 percent of the features of a smartphone are not related to making phone calls anymore. In the future, about 80 percent of the functions of a car will not be related to transportation," said Ma.
The car, which will be put on to the market soon at a retail price from 148,800 yuan ($22,250), enjoys some tech-savvy features such as voice control to change the in-car temperature and a real-time navigation system that can relieve the driver from the pressure of staring at smartphone-based navigation tools.
Some of the features may not seem major breakthroughs. But James Yan, research director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research, said that it is actually much more complicated than it looks to connect a traditional car to the internet.
"With the installed operating system, Alibaba is likely to introduce more features, such as streaming videos and online shopping, in the future generations of its smart vehicles," said Yan.
However, he doubts that cars can replace smartphones as a key internet device. "After all, people don't spend that much time in cars, only when they need to commute."
Among China's major tech companies, Alibaba is considered to be an early bird in terms of launching an internet car that is ready for sale. But its rivals, such as Baidu Inc and Le Holdings Co are focusing on self-driving technology.
Baidu plans for its cars go into mass production in five years, Le Holdings, known for its smart TV and smartphone products, in April released its first concept self-driving electronic car－28 months after the company decided to enter the industry.