VW expands China presence by inking artificial intelligence joint venture with Beijing’s Mobvoi

Beijing AI firm just five years old, but has already developed a series of cutting-edge auto products based on voice recognition technology

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2017, 8:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 3:18pm

Volkswagen has invested US$180 million in a Chinese artificial intelligence start-up, as the German company bets big on so-called “smart mobility solutions” for its next generation of cars.

The latest investment pushes total funding secured by Beijing-based Mobvoi to US$250 million with other investors including Google, Sequoia and Zhenfund.

The carmaker’s Volkswagen China Investment unit has inked a strategic partnership with Mobvoi, which includes investing the US$180 million in a 50:50 joint venture between the two firms to develop applications based on the Chinese company’s cutting-edge voice recognition and natural language processing technologies.

Jochem Heizmann, Volkswagen Group China’s president and CEO, said on Thursday the tie-up would help create what he called the “next generation of smart mobility” devices for its customers in China, which could have “the potential to be adopted globally”.

Founded just five years ago by former Google research scientist Li Zhifei, Mobvoi gained prominence after launching its flagship smartwatch, “Ticwatch,” in June 2015.

It has also developed a smart rear-view mirror product that provides navigation, instant messaging, and on-board infotainment, activated through voice command.

“Mobvoi’s mission has always been to redefine the next generation of human-machine interaction,” Li said, “and this joint venture will provide us a new platform to do so, together with Volkswagen.”