Audi ties up with Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent for in-car technology as it eyes young Chinese buyers

 5G

German luxury car brand Audi has formed tie-ups with several leading mainland technology companies to leverage their strengths and make its vehicles more attractive to Chinese buyers.

Giorgio Delucchi, head of sales for mainland China and Hong Kong, said the marque was pursuing the best infotainment, autonomous driving and digital connectivity technologies for its upcoming electric vehicles (EVs).

The company has formed tie-ups with Alibaba Group Holding, Baidu and Tencent Holdings to collaborate in the fields of big data, Internet of Things and urban mobility.

“We want to ensure that Audi is at the forefront of the technical development with the [Chinese] partnerships,” Delucchi said in an exclusive interview with the Post. He added that autonomous driving, digital connectivity and sophisticated in-car entertainment are the key areas that Audi would explore, as the firm aimed to stay ahead of the competition in China.

For Audi, a leader in China’s luxury vehicle segment for the past three decades, its EV offensive in the world’s largest car market has just started amid the accelerated pace of electrification on the roads.

Tesla and China’s home-grown EV start-ups such as Xpeng, NIO Li Auto are emerging as game-changers in the market, where young drivers have a penchant for intelligent features like driver assistant systems, voice recognition technology and huge screens.

The three Chinese companies, believed to have the potential to challenge Tesla, each delivered more than 10,000 vehicles in November, snapping at the US carmaker’s heels.

Audi, the luxury car unit of Volkswagen, does not report monthly EV deliveries in China, but it lags far behind Tesla and the domestic start-ups.

“In today’s mobility industry, customers are more interested in the level of automation and driving range provided by an electric vehicle,” said Tian Maowei, a sales manager at Yiyou Auto Service in Shanghai. “Mercedes, Audi and BMW, as stars of the oil-guzzling ICE cars, will have to adapt to the changing tastes of the consumers to regain their competitive edge in the Chinese market.”

Conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) carmakers, after riding a boom in China since the 1990s, are facing headwinds as Beijing is determined to achieve carbon neutrality by encouraging environment-friendly vehicles.

UBS predicted that three out of every five new cars sold in China by 2025 will be powered by electricity.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, dubbed as BBA in China, have been the dominant players in the country’s luxury vehicle segment, but Tesla, NIO, Xpeng and Li Auto’s EVs fitted with sophisticated digital technologies in the 5G era have been well received by the mainland’s young generation of drivers.

Audi is resolutely transforming itself into a provider of sustainable mobility, and has set a target of delivering 3 million cars a year in China from 2030.

In 2025, Audi plans to assemble five battery-powered EV models at its mainland-based plants, Delucchi said. From 2026 onwards it will only launch electric-powered cars.

At present, Audi and its Chinese partner FAW Group, make the electric Q2L e-tron and the plug-in hybrid A6L TFSle models.

 5G

An Audi A6 e-tron concept EV is displayed at the Shanghai car show in April this year. Photo: Reuters

In October 2020, Audi signed a pact with state-owned FAW based in Changchun, in northeast China’s Jilin province, to set up a new venture for EV production. The new plant is set to start operation from 2024, and the construction could begin soon with approval expected to arrive this month.

It also started producing the A7L at the Shanghai Volkswagen plant in September after forming a new partnership with SAIC Motor.

“We are confident that we will blaze a trail in the EV market [in China],” said Delucchi. “We have very strong partners and can make sure that our development process is relevant to China and Hong Kong.”

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