In May 2013, on the last night before stepping down as CEO, Jack Ma did a far-reaching thing for Ali: he invested US$290 million in AutoNavi and became a major shareholder.
At that time, Ali was in the stage of rapid expansion. It invested in Weibo, Momo, Meituan, Youmeng and other companies successively, and it was regarded as the most important starting point for the development of the O2O model – AutoNavi Map, which naturally became The stuff in the bag.
A year later, Ali spent nearly $1.1 billion to officially incorporate AutoNavi.
The effect of the acquisition of AutoNavi is remarkable. Not only has Alibaba made LBS (Location-Based Services) prosperous, but its other core, Cainiao Network, has also opened a plug-in mode in logistics after accessing the data of AutoNavi. , has developed into a super unicorn with a valuation of about 190 billion yuan, and the e-commerce business has also benefited.
Although the original intention of Alibaba’s acquisition of AutoNavi was to use the map as a traffic portal to empower its O2O business ecology, AutoNavi’s significance is not only there.
In 2016, after an additional investment of US$400 million, Ali became a major shareholder of Didi Chuxing, and signed a cooperation agreement to provide map navigation services for Didi Chuxing drivers by AutoNavi.
On the surface, this is to consolidate the user base and business of AutoNavi Maps, but in fact, this is a milestone event for Ali to enter the transportation field.
Since then, Ali has invested dozens of times in the field of transportation, involving public transportation, Internet of Vehicles, used cars, autonomous driving and other businesses, from car production to ecology, from public travel to car services, from smart highways In the city brain, a complete set of industry layout has been formed, and it has become a veritable “high-end player” of intelligent transportation.
The Road to Krypton Gold
“The Internet has no boundaries, just like electricity.”
Jack Ma once said this, which means that the Internet can create a new “network economy” through the compatibility and inclusion of various industries, so that “both individuals and enterprises can benefit from it.”
But it also shows that the genes of Internet companies are inherently expansionary. Its performance is to achieve control and influence on the enterprise through investment and mergers and acquisitions, so as to coordinate and cooperate in business, and ultimately feed back to the entire company, forming a positive cycle of “expansion-profit-re-expansion”.
Ali’s layout in the intelligent transportation industry also follows this logic.
After acquiring AutoNavi Maps, Ali has invested in companies such as Kuaidi Dache (later merged with Didi Dache), Shenzhou UCAR, and Zebra Auto. According to the statistics of IT Juzi, in the past ten years, Ali has made 41 investments in the field of automobile transportation, of which 33 occurred after investing in Didi (2016), involving tens of billions of dollars.
Ali’s traffic map
It can be seen that Ali’s investment is relatively clear: with transportation as the core, around people’s car needs, we will build a “car ecosystem” from products to services.
Among these companies, three companies deserve special attention: Zhiji Auto, Banma Zhixing, and Qianfang Technology.
Zhiji Auto is a new energy vehicle brand. It was jointly established by SAIC, Ali and Zhangjiang Hi-Tech in 2020. This is Ali’s second new energy vehicle after investing in Xiaopeng Motors.
Although they are all investments, there are actually differences: investing in Xiaopeng is like buying stocks for ordinary people, and they are more interested in investment income; investing in Zhiji Auto is more for developing their own business, which is closely related to Banma Zhixing related.
Banma Zhixing was reorganized by Zebra Networks and Ali OS in 2020. Zhang Jianfeng, president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, serves as the chairman, and Zhang Chunhui, vice president of Alibaba, serves as the co-CEO. It is a proper member of the Alibaba family.
In addition, the complete technical system and core technical talents of Ali OS have also been fully incorporated into Zebra, which shows the importance of Zebra.
As an important starting point for Ali to deploy the Internet of Vehicles, the main business of Banma Zhixing is concentrated on the automotive operating system. Ali OS has been implemented in some models of SAIC Roewe and MG, and the operating system “Cloud Car” of Zhiji Auto L7 model is also launched by Provided by Zebra.com.
Under the trend that the car has been regarded as the next phenomenon-level consumption scenario, the car operating system has been “redefined” and become a new traffic portal:
From map navigation to electronic payment, from car entertainment to car life services, this is a huge business ecosystem, which requires an in-vehicle operating system with a good user experience.
However, it is not easy to develop an in-vehicle operating system, especially in the trend of autonomous driving, the adaptation between the system and chips and sensors is a big problem.
Therefore, Banma Zhixing, Sagitar Juchuang and AutoX reached a strategic cooperation in April to jointly build an autonomous driving platform, and these three companies have a common shareholder behind them: Ali!
In other words, Ali, who did not directly announce the creation of cars, kept making “little actions” in private: while working on the car operating system, he invested in new energy vehicle companies. In addition, Ali Dharma Academy is also engaged in autonomous driving. Although it focuses on logistics scenarios, it is difficult to guarantee that the technology will not be used in passenger cars.
Therefore, although Ali has been very low-key, it has actually completed the layout of autonomous driving.
However, if Ali invests in Zhiji Auto, Zebra Networks, Sagitar Juchuang, AutoX and other companies and develops its own auto operating system, it is just to seize the next traffic entry to expand its business ecology, which is too underestimated Ali’s pattern.
In May 2019, Ali invested 3.595 billion yuan in Qianfang Technology to become the second shareholder, and took the opportunity to win Uniview Technology, a subsidiary of Qianfang Technology.
Qianfang Technology is a TOP player in the intelligent transportation industry, while Uniview Technology is a leader in AI security. In 2017, Qianfang Technology acquired Jiaozhi Technology, the parent company of Uniview Technology, at a price of 4.5 billion yuan, bringing this domestic enterprise second only to AI security giants Haikang and Dahua under its command.
The purpose of Ali’s investment in Qianfang Technology is obvious: Qianfang has accumulated many years in the construction of intelligent transportation, and cooperation with Qianfang can not only enter the industry faster and avoid detours, but also can efficiently cooperate with its own urban brain.
In addition, although Ali has made progress in bicycle intelligence, it still lacks an important helper in the construction of vehicle-road coordination and even the construction of the Internet of Vehicles. Qianfang obviously meets this condition.
As the third largest video surveillance company in China, Uniview’s role is to provide “end” perception, which is an area where Internet giants such as Ali are less deeply cultivated.
As the eyes of the road, surveillance cameras play an important role in real-time perception of road conditions, such as traffic congestion and accidents.
Therefore, Ali’s investment in Qianfang is intended to kill two birds with one stone: it can not only cooperate with Qianfang to develop a traffic brain, but also allow Uniview to participate in the construction of the perception side.
That is to say, in addition to working hard on “car” and “management”, Ali also has a layout on “road”. The two complement each other and form a model of “car + road + management”, which together are Ali’s intelligent transportation strategy Serve.
But is that enough?
Careful people will find that Ali not only invested in cars and roads, but also invested in online car-hailing, second-hand cars, car wash robots, car maintenance, parking and other car-related car life service companies. If all the investment projects are integrated and understood from the perspective of urban transportation, it is not difficult to draw Ali’s ambition:
Establish a large transportation business ecosystem with transportation as the core.
This big transportation business ecology is not only limited to the transportation industry, but can also empower Ali’s other businesses, such as payment, logistics, advertising, etc., thus forming the positive cycle mentioned at the beginning.
Therefore, under the “heavy krypton”, Ali was finally promoted from “professional novice” to “high-end player”. In the intelligent transportation industry, a business map with transportation as the core has been formed.
However, in addition to RMB, the core competitiveness of Gaowan must have excellent technology, or equipment, in order to be worthy of the title of “Gaowan”.
These businesses of Ali are like independent points. Although they are inextricably linked, they have never been connected. It is like a piece of equipment that lacks the core, cannot be integrated, and cannot exert its greatest power.
So, what is Ali’s core equipment?
If you put the words map, travel, traffic, parking… on paper and connect them with a keyword, then the answer will come out – cloud computing.
As a new concept in the AI era, cloud computing can help people and machines process data more efficiently, so it is widely used in artificial intelligence technology. The transportation industry, which is in urgent need of AI empowerment, is no exception.
Whether it is urban traffic management, bicycle intelligence and vehicle-road coordination, or traffic travel, a large amount of data will be generated, and how to make good use of this data to empower traffic requires cloud computing services.
Alibaba’s core equipment is Alibaba Cloud.
As the vanguard of domestic cloud computing, Alibaba Cloud can firmly occupy the top spot in the domestic public cloud market. A very important aspect is Alibaba’s urban brain project, and the most important aspect of urban brain construction is traffic management.
In 2017, Alibaba Cloud City Brain 1.0 was born. Its main function is to automatically identify and handle AI signal lights and traffic incidents, and improve traffic efficiency from two directions: traffic diversion and incident handling;
In 2018, Alibaba Cloud launched version 2.0 of City Brain, which, on the basis of traffic management, expanded to government affairs, water affairs and other fields, and landed in many cities across the country;
In 2019, Alibaba Cloud, Qianfang Technology and AutoNavi jointly released the “Qianfang Alibaba Cloud City Brain Traffic Management Joint Solution”, and launched City Brain 3.0 in the same year;
In addition to the city brain, Alibaba Cloud also has practical projects in the intelligent construction of expressways, including high-speed cloud control platforms, free-flow toll auditing, monitoring management and video uploading to the cloud, vehicle-road collaboration, and more.
According to incomplete statistics, Alibaba’s urban brain has been implemented in dozens of cities around the world, and Alibaba Cloud has participated in more than 20 domestic smart high-speed practice projects.
Under the empowerment of Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba’s intelligent transportation construction is like a duck to water. In 2020, the “Alibaba Digital Intelligence Transportation Research Institute” was established, and the “Intelligent Transportation Operating System TBOS” was launched.
The system integrates artificial intelligence technologies such as cloud computing platforms, data fusion engines, and visual AI, and is highly interconnected with AutoNavi and Cainiao under the Alibaba ecosystem. It can integrate data from field hardware and transportation information systems to further improve traffic management.