Alibaba announced that it’s getting into the smart car game. Not self-driving cars or electric cars—just cars stuffed with the tech toys Alibaba already sells, complete with a built-in e-commerce hookup. The deal between Alibaba and Chinese carmaker SAIC Motor Corp was first announced last July but has been inked today, including a joint $160 million (1 billion yuan) investment in the technology, according to Reuters.
Google’s self-driving cars are captivating, and one can easily imagine what Apple’s proposed electric car would look like, with sleek Jony Ive bevels and glass. Alibaba doesn’t need to enter the Car of Tomorrow game, necessarily. It just needs to deliver the goods more cheaply than its competition. This is the synergy that Alibaba has built its brand on: gather a bunch of disparate things and repackage them intelligently.
Details of the deal are scarce, but Phys.org reports that the car will likely debut in 2016 and “will include services such as e-commerce, digital entertainment, maps and communications.” The latter items sound just like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, to say nothing of Ford’s upcoming tablet-style interface Sync 3, but it’s the e-commerce feature that will probably set Alibaba’s vehicle apart—I think we can guess what e-commerce portal Alibaba’s car will default to.
In the end, this is a clear play to capture a slice of a growing market, and truly, Alibaba is probably the perfect brand to spearhead smart cars in China.