Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. have signed a three-year agreement to explore opportunities in retail experiences and technology.
Ford will collaborate with four Alibaba units: Operating system developer AliOS, cloud computing arm Alibaba Cloud, digital marketing unit Alimama and online marketplace Tmall.
The two companies will focus on areas including mobility services, connectivity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and digital marketing.
In the initial phase of the partnership, Alibaba and Ford will conduct a pilot study on integrating online and offline experiences at various stages of the automotive ownership cycle, from pre-sales and test drives to financial leasing options.
The pact aims to "explore new ways to redefine how consumers purchase and own vehicles, as well as how to leverage digital channels to identify new retail opportunities," Alibaba said.
Reuters had reported Dec. 6 that the deal could include testing online sales of Ford cars on the Tmall platform. An Alibaba spokeswoman told the news agency following the Dec. 7 announcement that such a move was under consideration.
The agreement comes shortly after Ford revealed plans to launch 50 new vehicles in China, including at least 15 electric vehicles, by 2025 and boost its sales growth in the country.
"China is not only the largest car market in the world, it's also at the heart of electric-vehicle and SUV growth and the mobility movement," Ford Motor Executive Chairman Bill Ford said during the Dec. 5 announcement at an event in Shanghai.
The tie-up also marks Alibaba's first major partnership with a global car company as it look to deploy its operating system in the internet of things and automotive spaces.
Alibaba debuted its automotive system, originally called YunOS, in 2016. In partnership with China's largest automaker, SAIC Motor Corp. Ltd., it launched an internet-connected car that can be controlled remotely or via voice commands.
More than 400,000 internet-connected cars powered by the system, which has been rebranded as AliOS, are currently being driven in China, according to Alibaba.
The company added that it is working with more than 50 brands in areas such as automotive operating systems, intelligent speech recognition, driverless technology, high-precision mapping, auto financing and in-vehicle payment systems.