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For China's Alibaba, the Magic Word Is "Connected Car"

That makes it the second Chinese tech giant this week to hop on the smart-car bandwagon

1 min read
A smoothed boulder painted with the Alibaba logo
Photo: Imaginechina/AP Photo

Alibaba—China’s biggest tech companysays it’s entering a joint venture with SAIC Motor, China’s largest auto company, to build a connected car. The car, which could hit the roads as early as next year, would communicate with other cars via the cloud.

The news comes just days after Baidu—China’s biggest search company—said it would build a self-driving car, and just weeks after a Chinese government official suggested that tech companies should foster innovation in the auto industry. Maybe it was more than just a suggestion.

In any case, the news represents the confluence of two trends: the tech invasion of automaking and the attempt of governments to be seen leading the charge.

The techie invasion began in 2010, when Google unveiled its famous Google car project. Now Apple may be in the hunt, according to Valley gossip fueled by citings of sensor-festooned Apple cars and reports that the company is poaching engineering talent from Tesla Motors and battery-maker A123. Wags have already speculated how the experience of driving a future Apple car might turn out.

Government positioning also began its stately minuet some years ago in the United States, when states like California, Nevada and Michigan began competing with one another to be the first to welcome robocars to the roads. Joining them in recent months Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands have all announced robocar strategies, sometimes using language that betrayed a certain fear of being left in Google’s dust. One wonders how they will react to Alibaba and Baidu.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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