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Tencent wants to be the go-to company for foreign automakers for electric vehicles in China

BMW’s iX electric SUV in China was the first global car brand to include the automotive version of Tencent’s WeChat messaging app, according to the Chinese tech company.


BEIJING — Chinese internet giant Tencent wants to sell technology the company says will help foreign automakers looking to sell cars in China’s massive electric vehicle market.

BMW and some U.S. automakers are already working with Tencent, said Liu Shuquan, vice president of Tencent Intelligent Mobility, part of Tencent’s cloud business. Speaking to CNBC on Friday, he declined to specify which US automakers he works with.

In a move to bolster its international strategy, Liu’s team on Friday launched a new cloud computing product for automakers called “Tencent Intelligent Automobile Cloud.”

The all-in-one cloud product – also available to domestic automakers – can cover all technological aspects of an electric car, the company claimed. These features range from storing data in an optimized way for training autonomous driving systems, to giving drivers access to social media and Tencent’s map applications.

The user interface may be a selling point for Chinese drivers considering how Tencent dominates an array of top online entertainment apps in China.

The company has played the role of Facebook in China with its ubiquitous messaging, payment and social media app WeChat – something tech rivals Baidu and Alibaba have yet to come close to.

In entertainment, Tencent also has other apps: QQ Music, one of the top two Spotify-like apps in China; Tencent Video, which offers on-demand streaming content including reality shows and anime series; as well as popular mobile games like Honor of Kings.

Tencent Maps is the third most popular navigation app in Apple’s App Store in China – the first two belong to its main rivals Alibaba and Baidu.

All cars that allow passengers or drivers to access Tencent apps from the vehicle’s platforms must have an agreement with Tencent, Liu said.

These app-level partnerships began in 2018, around the same time Tencent Cloud began working with automakers for self-driving services, the company said.

Add more self-driving technology

Chinese auto industry players are increasingly betting that local drivers will want more autonomous driving features, which are basically assisted driving features due to current technology regulations.

Already in the first quarter, 23% of new cars sold in China came with a limited level of assisted driving, called “level 2” in a classification system for autonomous driving, according to Tencent.

With the new cloud-computing product announced last week, Liu said foreign automakers could develop vehicles with navigation and assisted driving features customized for Chinese roads and terrain.

“The data belongs to [the] OEM, the consumer,” Liu said, referring to original equipment manufacturers who supply components and parts for another company’s product.

“We just provide a cloud service to store this data. The second thing is that we provide a whole ecosystem. This ecosystem includes not only[s] our own service and content but also those of our partners.”

Liu said his company has already partnered with nearly 40 auto brands, including BMW, SAIC and Nio, covering 120 vehicle models. He also noted partnership talks with German and Japanese companies.

BMW did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment. Representatives of SAIC and Nio spoke at Friday’s launch event for the “Tencent Intelligent Automobile Cloud” product.

Learn more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

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