US car manufacturing giant Ford has partnered with Alibaba Group as part of its plan to rapidly grow revenue in China’s automotive market, with the companies signing an agreement to use Alibaba’s innovative retail technology to improve customer experience.
Alibaba said in a statement that the partnership would comprise a pilot study to find ‘new retail’ opportunities through the car sales process, from pre-sale to test drive to financial leasing options.
Alibaba’s new retail concept merges physical shopping locations with e-commerce platforms, providing consumers with easier, faster and more efficient ways of shopping.
Four of Alibaba’s business units will work with Ford on the partnership – operating system developer AliOS, cloud computing platform Alibaba Cloud, digital marketing arm Alimama and e-commerce platform Tmall.
Alibaba’s ALiOS made its debut last year, with more than 400,000 internet cars powered by the operating system are being driven in China today.
Alibaba will also work with Ford to identify opportunities in artificial intelligence, infotainment and the Internet-of-Things.
“Our data-driven technology and platform will expand the definition of car ownership beyond just having a mode of transportation and into a new medium for a smart lifestyle.” Alibaba Group chief executive Daniel Zhang said.
The initiative is a key strategic move for Ford, which is seeking to entrench itself in China on the back of a plan to introduce more than 50 new vehicles in China by 2025.
Ford has a significant presence in China already, with some of its most advanced manufacturing facilities, including its Nanjing Test Centre, located in the country.
Ford’s new China line will include eight all-new SUVS and at least 15 electrified vehicles under its Ford and Lincoln marques.
A joint venture between Ford and Chinese auto manufacturer Zotye will also release a new range of all-electric vehicles.
Ford chairman Bill Ford said the company was targeting revenue growth in China of 50 per cent by 2025, compared to 2017 levels, focusing on smart vehicles, connections to Chinese consumers and a streamlined business structure.
“China is not only the largest car market in the world, it’s also at the heart of electric vehicle and SUV growth and the mobility movement,” Mr Ford said.
“The progress we have achieved in China is just the start. We now have a chance to expand our presence in China and deliver even more for customers, our partners and society.”
Along with the Alibaba partnership and the Zotye joint venture, Ford is also one of the founding members of Baidu’s project Apollo, which is developing and testing autonomous vehicles.
Ford chief executive Jim Hackett said the participation in the project would accelerate the company’s robotics and artificial intelligence research efforts.
“We are responding to the rapid pace of change by delivering increased connectivity and working to improve and simplify mobility for everyone,” Hackett said.
“This builds on our commitment to deliver smart vehicles for a smart world, helping people around the world move more safely, confidently and freely.”