As the lines between automotive and technology continue to blur, carmakers and tech firms race to bring electric and autonomous vehicles to market.
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The growing convergence of the two sectors was on full display at Auto Shanghai in April, appropriately themed “Embracing Change”. Hordes of foreign and domestic carmakers turned up, eager to tout their latest models at the first big global automotive event since the pandemic. Some grabbed headlines, like electric car startup Xpeng with its flying vehicle, but several key trends also stood out.
Domestic carmakers like Xpeng were more prominent than ever, and prepared to hold their own against established global competitors. Unsurprisingly, electric vehicles (EVs) crowded the floors. China is already the world’s biggest EV market. Fuelled by government support and consumer demand, it continues to grow. Local EV startups, unencumbered by legacy factories and supply chains, aim to surpass domestic incumbents as well as global giants that have long dominated the internal-combustion space.
The opportunities presented by the Chinese EV market drew several newcomers to Auto Shanghai – including non-carmakers like telecoms giant Huawei; DJI, the world’s biggest drone-maker; and property developer Evergrande. Technology firms like Huawei and DJI are focussed on sophisticated software for EVs rather than “eye appeal”, The Economist reports. Their end goal is fully autonomous vehicles, and both firms have developed laser-based detection systems. Yet another Chinese tech firm, Baidu, also showcased self-driving technology at Auto Shanghai.
Some tech firms are pursuing the strategy of working with conventional automotive companies in order to get their vehicles to market faster. Huawei, for example, is working with Beijing-based BAIC Group on a luxury EV. Baidu has formed a strategic partnership with Geely to mass-produce “intelligent” semi-autonomous EVs. Taking a different route, Evergrande is building its own EV factories. Executive V.P. Dai Lei, former CEO and co-founder of EV startup Byton, said the company wants to compete with big players like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Tesla.
Those who plan to go it alone, a group that includes smartphone maker Xiaomi, expect to recoup their investments in new factories, since they will not have to split the revenues with partners. They also point to potential rivalries between partners. Despite its partnership with EV aspirant Baidu, Geely displayed its newly launched Zeekr EV not far from Baidu’s booth at Auto Shanghai. Only time will tell which EV makers will ultimately distinguish themselves.