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Backed by High Profile Chinese Investors, AutoAI Aims at No.1 in China's Connected Vehicle Industry
COVID-19 and China

Oct 31, JING Muhan(景慕寒), senior vice president of NavInfo(四维图新), announced AutoAI(四维智联)'s formal establishment and at the same time, received more than USD 100 million of investment from Chinese giant Tencent(腾讯), the most successful car-hailing app DiDi Technology (滴滴)and EV company NIO(蔚来). JING Muhan said AutoAI aims at becoming a front-runner in China's Connected Vehicle industry. Currently, its strongest competitor in China is Banma Network Technology Co., Ltd (斑马智行), which already has cooperated with quite a few car manufacturers including Ford.

Strategically formed and strategically separated

AutoAI, which was just announced to be established, has, in fact, been working on connected vehicles for more than a decade. It is formed strategically by several boutique companies in related industries, which adds to its advantage.

In early 2015, NaviInfo, with 18 years of experience in navigation software and GPS map, invested USD 42.8 million to acquire a digital map company called "Mapbar"(图吧地图). Later, NaviInfo's subsidiaries: FunDi Shanghai(上海趣驾), SmartAuto (China) Automotive Information System Co., Ltd. (和骊安) as well as Teng Rui Wan li (腾瑞万里) company together with Mapbar formed a new group under NaviInfo. All these three are technology companies dedicated to the development and application of car navigation software, car entertainment, system software, and mobile navigation software. As early as September 2014, FunDi Shanghai's first car system software WeDrive was jointly launched by Tencent and NaviInfo, which is an integrated connected vehicle solution. SmartAuto was originally founded in Finland by the backbone of Nokia's Automotive Electronics Division; While Teng Rui Wan li owns a navigation app called "Navigation Puppy", used by nearly 100 million car owners.

The company's name was officially changed into AutoAI this April and officially seperated from the mother company very recently. According to JING Muhan, the spin-off of AutoAI from NaviInfo could help to introduce capital and resources, especially resources which could bring innovation, improvement and further development to the company.

Not yet No.1, but already a mature player

With many years of experience in the industry, AutoAI had grown to be a mature player in Connected Vehicle industry, which cannot be overlooked in China. Individual car owners the company served by far have exceeded 10 million. Until now, the company has more than 1,000 employees, worked with over 40 car manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Volvo Cars, Nissan and Isuzu Motors, BAIC Group and New EV brand NIO, it also cooperated with more than 20 OEMs and more than 20 system vendors, all together, over a hundred partners. 

Strong product portfolio thanks to the "big brother" Tencent

AutoAI is currently providing passenger car manufacturers with integrated solutions for connected vehicles, this does not only include cloud data service, connected car operating system, digital map, and navigation systems, mobile phone-car connection system and content services, etc. but also include voice recognition, unified account system, and Tencent's e-payment system. According to JING, AutoAI could provide anything a Chinese car owner needs, or any Chinese car manufacturing company requires.

AutoAI has a big data platform that collects, processes and analyses all data related to vehicle users and then these data will be applied in user service optimization; AutoAI will also share the collected and analyzed data with various automotive industry-related companies to form a SAAS (Software as a Service) platform.

According to this comparison, AutoAI is backed mainly by Tencent group, while Banma's content services are mainly provided by Alibaba.

There is also a big difference lies in the operating system these two use. AutoAI is based on Android, while Banma's system is AliOS. The advantage of Android operating system, according to JING Muhan's remark, is that most of the software provided by developers worldwide could be compatible with Android system, however, Banma's system may pose an inconvenience to both the system engineers and the car users when third-party apps being integrated to it. Also, the Android system may make AutoAI more popular among car manufacturers in China.

The doubts in the openness of its system

However, the openness of the system is being questioned, since it could be a double-edged sword. How could AutoAI defend its system from cyber-attack in this ever so volatile internet environment? The answer given by JING is that "This requires cooperation from multiple parties in our society, not only companies in the Connected Car industry." He stressed that companies cannot give up when faced with potential difficulties, but should go ahead and actively search for solutions on the way.

In fact, the company has already worked intensively on their encryption technology, which features multiple encryption mechanisms and supports third-party KMS (Key Management Service) to ensure the security and reliability of the services.  

Author: LI Jia. Write to LI Jia at LIJia@EqualOcean.com

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