AI startup Mobvoi (出门问问 in Chinese) announced yesterday it has completed a US$ 180 million series D backed by Volkswagen Group China that will promote the application of its AI technologies in the automobile market, our sister site TechNode Chinese is reporting.

The two parties have signed a strategic partnership to build a 50/50 joint venture (JV) between Mobvoi and Volkswagen China Investment (VCIC), targeting the automotive market.

Committed to R&D and application of vehicle-mounted AI technologies, the new JV is set to develop products tailored for the Volkswagen-branded models, beginning with a smart rear-view mirror which Mobvoi launched last year and combines multiple functions including 4G network, voice navigation, search POI, instant messaging and onboard entertainment.

To date, Mobvoi has secured over US$ 250 million from Chinese and foreign investors including Sequoia Capital, ZhenFund, and Google (in Chinese).

Founded in 2013 by ex-Googler Li Zhifei, Mobvoi is an artificial intelligence startup focusing on mobile voice search. Its core technologies involve speech recognition system, semantic analysis, vertical search and text-to-speech technologies (in Chinese).

It has introduced an array of smart products including the Ticwatch smartwatch and Ticmirror intelligent rearview mirror. Currently, their products have found wide applications on Android, WeChat, as well as Google Glass, where they offered the first and only application that enables users to talk to their glasses in Chinese.

In the new JV, the AI startup will be mainly responsible for research and development, while Volkswagen will focus on marketing, sales and brand management.

Volkswagen Group China CEO Prof. Dr. Heizmann said: “This partnership is a great example of Volkswagen’s determination to work with groundbreaking Chinese tech companies like Mobvoi to create new forms of people-oriented mobility technology. We are impressed by Mobvoi’s innovative approach to AI technologies, and we are pleased to form this joint venture to explore the next generation of smart mobility.”

The tie-up is an important step for car makers like Volkswagen to switch focus away from mere traditional car making to providing future smart mobility solutions.

Such alliance is also a win-win strategy for both AI firms and carmakers. On one hand, AI firms can grow its business by leveraging car makers’ brand influence and strong financial positions; Car makers, on the other hand, can see a value uplift on their cars backed by the AI technologies.

The Mobvoi-Volkswagen partnership is just one of a number of reports about alliances between tech firms and carmakers recently. Last March Chinese tech giant Tencent bought a 5% share in Tesla, while Intel announced it will acquire Mobileye for US$ 15.3 billion to quicken its pace in self-driving sector, to name just a few (in Chinese).

Sheila Yu is a Shanghai-based technology writer. She brings readers the biggest news from Chinese language tech media. Reach her at

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