Alibaba Tmall Genie Voice Assistant Coming to BMW Cars Sold in China in Late 2019
BMW announced Monday that it will bring Alibaba’s Tmall Genie voice assistant to cars sold in China in late 2019. The voice assistant will respond to driver queries with both audio content and information “displayed in text and image form” on the in-dashboard screen. A media announcement about the Tmall Genie integration states:
“This latest move by the BMW Group follows integration of BMW Connected into Alibaba’s Chinese ecosystem. It allows BMW customers who have a Tmall Genie-compatible device at home to operate vehicle functions easily and conveniently, and to call up appointments saved in the BMW Connected mobility agenda. BMW Connected was launched in China in December 2016 and is currently used by 1.5 million customers. Now the integration of Tmall Genie into BMW vehicles enables customers to access functions on the move they are already accustomed to using at home on the move. BMW customers in China can use Tmall Genie to place online orders, for example, view cinema listings, listen to their favourite playlist or check the weather at their destination.”
Alibaba is Starting to Gain Momentum with Automakers
While BMW is expected to be the first premium automaker to implement Tmall Genie in the car, Volvo was the first announcement back in September 2018. Volvo is also expecting to start shipping cars with Tmall Genie onboard in 2019 and a prototype was being demonstrated at CES this week.
That demonstration was simply asking a question and getting a response from the voice assistant. Alibaba was not demonstrating car-to-home smart home controls or other more generalized queries at CES when I was there due to WiFi issues. However, the demonstration did show confirmation of progress in integrating Tmall Genie in the car for what the company refers to as car-to-home interactivity.
Alibaba does have other automakers on board with the home-to-car connectivity. In April 2018 shortly before the Beijing Auto Show, the company announced it was working with Daimler, Audi, and Volvo to enable control of car functions from Tmall Genie smart speakers.
“Users will be able to monitor their cars, lock car doors, turn on air conditioning and plan a route by speaking to their smart speakers at home, the first time that Tmall Genie will be connected to vehicles to offer ‘home-to-car’ services in China.”
Roger Yong Zhang, senior lead, international corporate communications, Alibaba Group, said in relation to the announcement:
“We’ve been working with multiple premium auto brands to explore the possibility of extending the IoT connected experience in cars. Because in China, consumers are spending more time every day in their cars on the road…we believe that consumers will want to do more when they are in their car. And, there is definitely this possibility to connect them through Tmall Genie in their car to a lot more services that they can get through the internet. For example, when you are in a car you can order food, you can do shopping, you can book a ticket for the film you are going to watch with your loved one after work…You can also tell Tmall Genie to turn on the air conditioner before you get home…BMW is going to be the first premium automaker to bring the product that integrates Tmall Genie to the China market.”
The Car Will be the Next Battleground for Baidu and Alibaba Over Voice Assistants
China still is a fairly new market for voice assistants with smart speakers just coming to market within the last two years. However, the market in China is following a similar pattern to the U.S. where smart speaker competition quickly expands into other devices and platforms, including cars. Amazon and Google are working furiously to get Alexa and Assistant into automaker platforms and in China it is a good bet that Alibaba and Baidu will compete just as furiously for space in the car. BMW and Volvo are just the beginning.