Changan Automobile will begin delivering a new version of its best-selling CS75 SUV model equipped with a voice-operated version of WeChat in the third quarter this year, making it the first mass-market passenger vehicle equipped with the ubiquitous Tencent app.
Why it matters: Tencent is accelerating its entry into the connected vehicle sector, readying for what many see as an uphill battle for market share with Baidu and Alibaba.
- Baidu is expected to lead the voice-enabled auto assistant segment with 260,000 units installed next year, according to Chinese market research firm Gasgoo Institute. Tencent is expected to follow with 190,000 units.
- Baidu has installed its DuerOS voice assistant in 300 models covering more than 60 auto brands to date. Tencent said on Monday that it is working with 21 OEMs to deliver connectivity solutions on 45 models.
- Alibaba installed its AliOS solution in 600,000 Roewe RX5s through an exclusive partnership with China’s largest automaker SAIC as of June 2018.
Detail: After delaying its release for nearly a year amid safety concerns, Tencent unveiled on Monday a voice-operated version of its popular instant messaging app WeChat for drivers as part of its collaboration with Chinese automaker Changan at an event in the southwestern Chongqing municipality.
- Developed specifically for use while driving, in-vehicle WeChat allows drivers to check and send messages as well as make calls using voice commands or using buttons on the steering wheel. It also features Tencent Map’s navigation service.
- The social and gaming giant claims the tailor-made version can be entirely controlled by voice and steering wheel controls, minimizing distraction for drivers while on the road.
- Pre-sales of the WeChat-equipped Changan SUV began on Friday at a starting price of RMB 127,900 (around $17,900). Deliveries will begin in the third quarter.
- The collaboration between Tencent and Changan began in April 2018 when the two firms set up connected vehicle joint venture Phoenix Auto Intelligence.
- This is the second such partnership between a Chinese OEM and a tech giant after Alibaba and SAIC formed Banma Network in 2015.
- WeChat for drivers will be one of the core capabilities of Tencent’s Internet of Vehicles solution and will also be open to other automakers, said Tencent Vice President Zhong Xiangping.
Context: Changan is pinning its hopes on the partnership to bolster falling sales of its vehicles in a flagging market.
- The Chongqing-based firm’s CS75 deliveries fell 7.8% year on year to around 76,000 units in the first seven months of this year. It ranked 12th in domestic SUV unit sales behind Great Wall Motor’s Haval H6 and Geely’s Boyue, according to figures from the China Passenger Car Association.
- Changan shares closed 1.2% higher at RMB 8.28 in Shenzhen on Tuesday after rising nearly 3.7% on Monday.