Ford recruits Alibaba to help break into China’s electric vehicle industry

Ford has put a lot of focus on China’s electric vehicle market — with a local joint venture expected to lead to 15 electric or hybrid models on sale in the country by 2025 — and today the automotive giant announced a tie-in with Alibaba to fulfill its ambitious goals.

The scope of alliance is fairly broad and vague at this point, but a large chunk of  the”strategic collaboration” appears to be based around developing a direct sales channel to reach consumers in China.

Alibaba is the country’s largest e-commerce firm that’s best known for its Taobao marketplace and T-Mall service for brands. The alliance could see Ford utilize T-Mall to sell cars to consumers — the company has sold items like cargo jets via Taobao before — but there could be room for collaboration within Alibaba’s ‘Next Retail’ strategy that unites online and offline commerce.

The Chinese giant recently invested in national hypermarket operator Sun Retail in a move that it hopes will increase the synergies between e-commerce and physical retailing, and automotive is one vertical where that mesh is more obviously beneficial. People like to touch, feel and drive cars before they buy them, but yet doing basic research and purchasing online is more productive than visiting multiple showrooms.

A source also indicated that Alibaba may consider a “vending machine” style approach to selling cars. We’ve seen such an approach before — like this compact 15-story operation in Singapore that looks like a child’s toy box and examples in Germany — and that could be one branch of Alibaba’s retail strategy in the future.

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