Alibaba is launching its mini-app ecosystem for vehicles in a partnership with electric vehicle (EV) maker Xpeng Motors, which will debut in an upcoming sedan as it seeks closer ties with Chinese automakers in the world’s largest auto market.

Why it matters: Alibaba is loosening its in-vehicle software strategy in collaboration with OEMs, offering more flexible business solutions including software development kits (SDK) and access to a variety of third-party mobile services.

  • The announcement follows a month after Alibaba said that it is opening its proprietary operating system YunOS to more automakers, which had been exclusively licensed to Banma Network Technologies, a joint venture (JV) formed by the e-commerce powerhouse and China’s largest automaker SAIC in late 2015.
  • An internet car firm backed by Alibaba and SAIC, Banma previously had a much more rigid approach offering end-to-end software solutions, a cooperation which OEMs were reluctant to enter.

Detail: Chinese EV maker Xpeng Motors announced Friday that it will be the first automaker to introduce Alibaba’s in-car mini-app platform into P7, the company’s first electric sedan model set to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020.

  • Alibaba’s mini-app platform includes a range of online services from food ordering to mapping and navigation, offered via lightweight apps which run on its super mobile applications platforms such as Alipay, Taobao, and Amap.
  • Xpeng expects that basic driving-related payment services, such as EV charging mini apps offered by third parties on Alipay, will be first out of the gate, Rocky Liu, general manager of internet technology for the EV startup, said Friday on the sidelines of the APSARA Computing Conference in Hangzhou.
  • Alibaba first disclosed in April that it was developing in-vehicle mini-apps based on Alipay’s system framework, which will later work on the AliOS platform for lifestyle services such as restaurant recommendations and food ordering via touch and voice controls.
  • Banma also offered more details about AliOS’s open initiative. In addition to the existing end-to-end customized solutions it began with, it is offering a number of software development packages to OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, which can use the OS code to develop proprietary applications such as mapping services, voice assistant, and infotainment.
At this year's APSARA Computing Conference, Banma announced that it will further open itself by offering a variety of Software Development Kits (SDKs) and integrated suites to Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs, while open its application ecosystem with more third-party services.
Banma’s internet solution for cars features its SDKs on the bottom left panel and an application ecosystem open to third parties on the bottom right panel. (Image credit: Banma Network)

Context: China internet powerhouses Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu are competing to lure automakers to their ecosystems. However, major car companies have already started developing proprietary new technologies in the potentially lucrative internet of vehicle (IoV) market.

  • Tencent joined the battle in August with the launch of a voice-operated version of WeChat on Changan CS75, the automaker’s best-selling SUV model, which pushed Changan’s stock prices up 9% immediately following the release. The two parties began partnering in July 2018 on a car internet firm to jointly develop car OS.
  • Geely, China’s largest non-state automaker and Baidu’s strategic partner, launched GKUI, a self-made OS based on Google’s Android system in March 2018.
  • Zhejiang-based Geely unveiled in July an upgraded OS which is installed in more than 1 million vehicles. The system features an inclusive user ID system which can be linked to a car owner’s WeChat, Alipay, and Baidu accounts.
  • Founded by a group of GAC engineers in Guangzhou in 2014, Xpeng Motors was initially financed and is now run by Chinese entrepreneur He Xiaopeng. He had co-founded a mobile browser UCWeb, which was acquired by Alibaba in 2014, after which He was named president of the Alibaba Mobile Business Group. Alibaba and Foxconn led the $350 million Series B on He’s subsequent project, Xpeng Motors, in early 2018.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen