The Next Big Thing

Video site Le Shi to grab in-car screens in partnership with Chinese carmarker

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2015, 9:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2015, 8:03pm

One of the most popular video-sharing websites in China is moving beyond the traditional media business by expanding into small in-car screens.

Le Shi, the operator of popular online video platform and a fast-growing investor in TV and movie productions, has inked a landmark partnership with state-owned BAIC Motor, one of China's top 10 biggest carmakers to make connected, smart electric cars, in the latest tie-up between mainland carmakers and internet firms.

The joint venture will unveil its in-car operating system next month that would allow users to access the internet entertainment firm’s content and applications, one of Le TV’s senior executives told the South China Morning Post in an interview.

We have made televisions, we are going to introduce our mobile phones, and having a supercar is an extension to our business
He Yi, Le Telematics chief

“We won’t be introducing our own car anytime soon, but we’ve been working on this new user interface that will be installed in some of BAIC Motor’s electric or new energy cars,” He Yi, chief executive of the Le Telematics joint venture, told the Post.

“We have made televisions, we are going to introduce our mobile phones, and having a supercar is an extension to our business. There are many screens, and we hope to let users have a fluid experience when they switch from one terminal to another,” he said.

“The first car that we will roll out in the future definitely won’t be a driverless car, but it will be a smart car capable of artificial intelligence, and it will run on electricity,” he said.

Le Shi’s He declined to reveal what functions the system would have, saying the details would be unveiled in the Shanghai Auto Show in April.

But a version of the Android-based operating system made for tablet and mobile phones unveiled in January shed light on the upcoming system custom made for vehicles. That version could be controlled by voice, touch or motion, and would be capable of automatic navigation, group chat, music streaming, online radio and video, and roadside assistance services.

The two companies’ co-operation began in an investment they jointly made last year in Atieva, which has done electric vehicle design and engineering work for Tesla, as well as Audi and General Motors.

The Beijing-based internet entertainment firm raised many eyebrows in December when it announced plans to break into electric-car production. The fact that it set up its own 260-strong research and development centre in Silicon Valley last year also surprised many people.

“Making disruptive innovations is in the genes of this company, as shown in its history in internet video and web-enabled TVs,” He said, referring to the firm’s early entry and success in the set-top box market before it was forced out after the mainland media regulator tightened control over content.

Le Shi is the latest of a number of mainland internet companies venturing into connected vehicle projects as China encourages traditional vehicle manufacturers to collaborate with non-car companies to boost innovation and competition.

The mainland’s largest search engine operator Baidu said it would unveil its autonomous car in the second half of the year. E-commerce giant Alibaba announced it would start a one billion yuan (HK$1.26 billion) fund with SAIC Motor, the mainland’s largest carmaker, to develop a connected car that might go on sale next year.

In the United States, Apple has reportedly been working on an electric car and is pushing to begin production as early as 2020, while Google said in January it aimed to have a self-driving car on the road in five years.