BMW’s iX electric SUV in China was the first global car brand to include the car version of Tencent’s WeChat messaging app, according to the Chinese tech company.
BEIJING — Chinese internet giant Tencent is looking to sell technology that the company says will help foreign automakers looking to sell cars in China’s huge electric vehicle market.
BMW and some US automakers are already working with Tencent, Liu Shuquan, vice president of Tencent Intelligent Mobility, which is part of Tencent’s cloud business. Speaking to CNBC on Friday, he declined to specify which US automakers it works with.
In an effort to boost its international strategy, Liu’s team launched a new cloud computing product for automakers on Friday, the “Tencent Intelligent Automobile Cloud”.
The all-in-one cloud product — also available to domestic automakers — can cover all technological aspects of an electric car, the company claimed. Those features range from storing data in a way optimized for training autonomous driving systems, to giving drivers access to Tencent’s social media and map apps.
The user interface can be a selling point for Chinese drivers as Tencent dominates a range of the best online entertainment apps in China.
The company played Facebook’s role in China with its ubiquitous WeChat messaging, payments and social media app — something tech rivals Baidu and Alibaba have yet to come close to.
In terms of entertainment, Tencent also has other apps: QQ Music, one of the two main Spotify-like apps in China; Tencent Video, which offers on-demand streaming content, including reality shows and animated series; as well as popular mobile games like Honor or Kings.
Tencent Maps is the third most popular navigation app on Apple’s App Store in China – the top two being from its main rivals Alibaba and Baidu.
Any cars that allow passengers or drivers to access Tencent apps from the vehicle’s platforms must have an agreement with Tencent, Liu said.
Those app-level partnerships began in 2018, around the same time that Tencent Cloud began working with automakers for autonomous driving, the company said.
Add more self-driving technology
Players in the Chinese auto industry are: increasingly assuming that local drivers want more autonomous driving, which are essentially assisted driving functions due to the regulation of current technology.
As early as the first quarter, 23% of new cars sold in China had a limited level of assisted driving, called “Level 2” in an autonomous driving rating system, according to Tencent.
With the new cloud computing product announced last week, Liu said foreign car companies could develop vehicles with navigation and driver assistance functions adapted to China’s roads and terrains.
“The data is owned by [the] OEM, the consumer,” said Liu, referring to original equipment manufacturers who provide components and parts for another company’s product.
“We just provide a cloud service to store that data. The second is that we provide an entire ecosystem. That ecosystem doesn’t just include:[s] our own service and content, but also that of our partners.”
Liu said his company is already collaborating with nearly 40 car brands, including BMW, SAIC and Nio, with 120 vehicle models. He also noted partnership talks with German and Japanese companies.
BMW did not immediately respond to a request from CNBC for comment. SAIC and Nio representatives spoke at Friday’s launch event for the “Tencent Intelligent Automobile Cloud” product.