Banma Network Technologies (斑马网络), a joint venture between Alibaba Group and SAIC Motor Corp, has completed its first financing round raising over RMB 1.6 billion, according to local media 36Kr (in Chinese). The funding round was led by SDIC Innovation Investment Management, with participation from Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital and SAIC Motor’s investment management platform Shangqi Capital. Banma hinted it has reached the coveted unicorn status, but did not disclose its post-funding valuation. The new investment will be used in talent recruitment and technology development.
Banma was founded in 2015 by Alibaba and SAIC Motor. The company launched the world’s first “Internet car”, the Roewe RX5, in 2016. The term “Internet car” refers to the next-generation of vehicles based on internet of things (IoT) technologies. The physical elements of the RX5 are designed and developed by SAIC Motor. It is marketed and sold under SAIC Motor’s Roewe brand. Alibaba, on the other hand, provides the operating system for the vehicle’s infotainment system–the AliOS. Alibaba claims that close to 400,000 internet cars are being driven in China are powered by its car operating system.
Hao Fei, the new CEO of Banma, revealed in an interview in July that the company is looking to expand its partnerships with Chinese car makers. According to Banma, a number of car brands including Changan Ford, Dongfeng Citroën, and Qoros will launch AliOS-fitted new models in the second half of 2018.
By joining forces with more car makers, Banma expects its operating system to be used in 6 million vehicles in China by 2023.
Alibaba is not the only Chinese Internet company making forays into the Chinese auto market. In April Dongfeng Motor launched the WindLink3.0, which is a Baidu DuerOS-powered AI in-vehicle system. Tencent is also teaming with a number of Chines car makers including the recently IPO’d EV startup NIO to accelerate development of advanced driver assistant system.