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

Autobahn Motors’ vending machine showroom in Singapore

Beyond sales, the companies said they will explore opportunities to work together on technology, including cloud computing for big data analysis, digital marketing services and using Alibaba’s AliOS operating system.

China’s state-owned media predicted than more than 800,000 green vehicles would be sold this year, up more than 50 percent on 2016, thanks in no small part to a government incentive that covers 26 different models. Data is scant, but that’s almost certain to make China the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. Already it has attracted Tesla, which is planning its own China-based factory, while VW is among the international firms that has invested in order to make its mark in the country.

“China is one of the world’s largest and most dynamic digital markets, thriving on innovation with customers’ online and offline experiences converging rapidly. Collaborating with leading technology players builds on our vision for smart vehicles in a smart world to reimagine and revolutionize consumers’ mobility experiences,” Jim Hackett, Ford President and CEO, said in a statement.

Executive chairman William C. Ford Jr. was even more direct in his assessment of the importance of China.

“When I think of where E.V.s are going, it’s clearly the case that China will lead the world in E.V. development,” he told the New York Times.

Alibaba announced its first internet car in partnership with Chinese firm SAIC last year — the vehicle runs AliOS — and it claims to be powering more than 400,000 vehicles across China’s roads today. This deal with Ford might not culminate in a Ford car running AliOS, but it does represent a first deal between Alibaba and an automaker from outside of China. That makes it a significant tie-in even the exact nature of the arrangement is rather frustratingly unclear at this point.

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