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China Focus: Smart cars a hit at Shanghai auto expo

Xinhua, April 25, 2017 Adjust font size:

"It will be rainy today, have you brought an umbrella?" a voice says. "This is the best route for you amid the current traffic jam." Welcome to the smart cars of the future.

As Chinese Internet giants jumping on the bandwagon, smart cars are a hit at the ongoing 17th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, which finishes Friday.

Auto manufacturer SAIC Motor introduced its Roewe I6 model, a smart car that immediately launches an automatic self-check once the engine starts. It also gives advice to the car driver about weather and road conditions.

What makes the model "intelligent" is an Internet-connected "brain," an operating system known as Banma (Zebra in English), co-developed by SAIC and e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba.

"We are not just aiming to allow drivers to surf the Internet in cars," said SAIC President Chen Zhixin. "We see cars as a smart product terminal, which incorporate functions like telecommunications, maps, music and maintenance."

At the exhibition, at least a dozen car manufacturers have unveiled car models with such smart "brains," including Nextev's NIO and Zhicheauto's Singulato. Nextev is a car maker with stakes in Internet giants such as Tencent, while Zhicheauto is an Internet firm.

Xu Heyi, board chairman of Beijing-based car maker BAIC Group, said that smart and Internet-connected cars have great potential in the future, and that Internet firms have a great advantage in the auto industry.

Despite Internet firms' presence at the auto show, the picture is not all rosy.

China's Internet entertainment company Le Holdings also marched into the auto industry last year, unveiling its all-electric battery concept model LeSEE, featuring smart, Internet-connected and automated driving.

Last year, the company announced plans to invest 20 billion yuan (2.9 billion U.S. dollars) to set up a production base in Deqing city, eastern China's Zhejiang Province, aiming at an annual output of 400,000 units of electric vehicles (EVs), and launched its global recruitment.

However, the widely anticipated auto industry newcomer is absent from the Shanghai auto show, and people cast doubt on its capital chain, as the company has to lay out a whole new industrial chain.

The company told Xinhua that it does not show up at the expo because it is still focusing on product development, manufacturing preparation and getting EV production qualification certificates.

Chinese electric start-up Nextev revealed its NIO ES8 seven-seater SUV at the Shanghai show. Nextev said its goal is to produce "normally" weighed SUVs, as EV batteries are heavy.

The company put its development focus on the key technology of batteries, while teaming up with traditional automobile company JAC Motor based in eastern Anhui Province to carry out production.

The business model makes Nextev confident to announce that its ES8 model will hit the market by the end of the year.

At the Shanghai auto show, Harman International announced its partnership with Baidu, China's leading Chinese Internet search engine operator, in joint efforts to develop in-car AI systems with an open platform accessible to software providers.

"Automation and Internet technology have turned vehicles into mobile computers. Future automobiles will download new functions through in-car operation systems," said Wang Xia, head of the auto industry department of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.

"Like the popularization of WiFi, Internet-based functions and new applications will become standard configurations in all automobiles," said Zhou Ping, vice president of Banma Technology, a joint venture between Alibaba and SAIC Motor. Endi