BMW, Alibaba Team Up for Connected-Car Services

German automaker BMW and Alibaba said Thursday they’ve teamed up to develop a range of “digitalized experiences for the car and home” for all new BMW models sold in China from the first half of 2018.

Via the cooperation, BMW car owners in China will be able to use smart speakers to remotely access information about their cars, such as how far they can still drive with what’s left in the gas tank and whether doors and windows have been left open or closed.

The connected-car services tie-up is the German manufacturer’s first official collaboration with Alibaba outside of e-commerce. BMW is working with the Internet-of-Things (IoT) business unit of Alibaba Cloud to deploy the company’s BMW Connected in-car infotainment system to Chinese consumers.

“BMW Group is working to shift from a traditional luxury auto manufacturer and service provider to a technology company, with automated driving, digital connectivity, mobility services and electrification as some of the central pillars of our new strategy,” said Joseph Zheng, vice president of digital services and business models at BMW China. “China is an innovation powerhouse and important ground for realizing our global strategy. We will continue to put customers first, and provide customers with customized, multi-tiered connected services through BMW Connected.”

Alibaba will help the automaker integrate smart speakers with BMW’s cloud-based infotainment platform and the sound-recognition and processing technology developed by Alibaba Cloud.

“We have strived to use IoT and machine intelligence technology to create a future where everything is connected,” said Sean Ding, chief scientist for the IoT division at Alibaba Cloud. “With our new collaboration with BMW, we want to provide users with new experiences where people, their vehicles and their homes are seamlessly connected.”

Ding said he hopes that, with the cooperation, the world would inch closer to a future where people can remote control their cars, adding the example of easily opening the car’s heater in a winter morning, as soon as the car owner wakes up, or controlling their refrigerator and laundry machine from inside their car.

“People, on average, spend 10 hours a day at home. In the U.S., people spend an average of one hour in their cars per day, and for China it may be even longer due to the traffic. How can we change people’s lives through technology and enhance lifestyles? [The answer lies in transforming] living spaces and transport,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement is the latest in a series of initiatives from Alibaba in the auto space. Earlier this month, the Chinese technology giant announced a partnership with Ford Motor in which the two companies said they would leverage artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and e-commerce via Tmall to “redefine the consumer journey and user experience for automobiles.”

The tie-up with Ford marked Alibaba’s first major partnership with an international automotive company since upgrading its operating system strategy in September to focus investment on the IoT and auto sectors.

Also, illustrating the company’s vision for reinventing the automotive sales experience, Alibaba’s B2C e-commerce platform Tmall is slated to open its Auto Vending Machine next month. Chinese consumers can already buy vehicles online with their smartphones, but the company said its new vending machine model will allow them to browse and purchase their new rides in only five minutes, making “buying cars as easy as buying a can of Coke.”