Visitors check out a Tesla intelligent car displayed at the 2017 Seventh China Smart City Technology and Application Products Expo in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, on Sept. 8.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd announced on Thursday that it has made a solid step forward in smart vehicle development through a partnership with U.S. auto giant Ford Motor Co.
Under a three-year agreement, the duo will explore opportunities in internet-connected cars, artificial intelligence and mobile services, as well as digital marketing.
Both sides will conduct a pilot study to explore "new retail" opportunities, or the seamless integration of online and offline shopping, at various stages of the automotive ownership cycle, from pre-sales to test drives to financial leasing options, according to a statement from Alibaba.
"Alibaba is excited to redefine the consumer journey and user experience for automobiles together with Ford," Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in the statement.
"Our data-driven technology and platform will expand the definition of car ownership beyond just having a mode of transportation and into a new medium for a smart lifestyle," Zhang said.
Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett said collaborating with leading technology players accords with their vision "for smart vehicles in a smart world to reimagine and revolutionize consumers' mobility experiences".
The tie-up came just days after Ford announced plans to launch 50 models of new vehicles in China by 2025, including at least 15 electrified cars, and pledged to have all new Ford and Lincoln-branded vehicles in China to be internet-connected by the end of 2019.
"The tech world has many innovations to offer us, so it (the future) will be a marriage of technology companies and automakers," Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, told China Daily at an event in Shanghai on Tuesday.
"Customers want smart cars for a smart world, and Chinese customers are quick to embrace new technologies and electric cars are going to be a preferred choice," the executive chairman said.
Alibaba debuted its automotive operating systems in 2016, and shortly after unveiled a new internet car with China's largest automaker SAIC Motor.
The company said that more than 400,000 internet cars being driven in China are powered by AliOS, its indigenous operating system, while some 50 brands are working with the tech juggernaut in areas from intelligent speech recognition and driverless technology to high-precision mapping and in-vehicle payment systems.
The endeavor would put Alibaba in the same league with tech majors such as Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd, both of which rolled out aggressive plans to test and develop intelligent vehicles and autonomous driving systems using AI and internet of things technologies.