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Alibaba, BMW collaborating on connected cars

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said Dec. 21 that it has teamed up with Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft to develop "digitalized experiences" for all of the German automaker's new models to be sold in China from the first half of 2018.

Under the collaboration, BMW owners in China will be able to use smart speakers to remotely access vehicle information such as the mileage available on the remaining fuel supply, or whether doors and windows are open.

The move brings together BMW's cloud-based infotaiment platform with sound-recognition and processing technology developed by Alibaba Cloud, the cloud-computing arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant.

"BMW Group is working to shift from a traditional luxury auto manufacturer and service provider to a technology company, with automated driving, digital connectivity, mobility services and electrification as some of the central pillars of our new strategy," Joseph Zheng, vice president of digital services and business models at BMW China, said in a statement.

The tie-up is one of several recent moves by Alibaba in the auto sector. The company is slated to launch a "vending machine" for cars in January 2018 that allows customers to browse vehicles stored in a multistory parking garage on their smartphones and make a purchase within minutes.

In early December, Alibaba agreed to partner with U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. to explore opportunities in several areas including retail experiences, connectivity, artificial intelligence and digital marketing. That was followed by an investment in Chinese electric car startup XPENG Motors.

In 2016, Alibaba jointly launched an internet-connected car with China's largest automaker, SAIC Motor Corp. Ltd.