9:16 PM 02/16/15
By Jake Spring
BEIJING (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co
Rivals including Daimler
“There’s a demand from our customers,” David Huang, a senior engineer who heads Ford’s Asia Pacific connected services unit, told Reuters. “People want to stay connected, stay informed and stay entertained all the time, even when they’re driving.”
Ford is in talks with Tencent over the business aspects of putting the app in its cars, Huang said. Tencent declined to comment.
Cars are becoming a key battleground for technology industry giants, including Google Inc (GOOGL.O) and Apple Inc
Huang said Ford envisages drivers syncing their phone to the car’s software system and controlling specific WeChat functions, chosen by Tencent and then certified by Ford as safe, through voice commands or limited use of buttons.
Making WeChat and other apps convenient, safe and legal to use while driving could help automakers gain market share in China, especially as auto sales growth eases in a slowing economy. Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, said connectivity was a key deciding factor for Chinese customers buying a car.
“Those kind of things are the fundamental things people will consider,” he added.
Many Chinese use WeChat’s free voice messaging feature instead of phone calls, holding up their smartphones like a walkie-talkie as they speak, tap and listen to replies.
They often do that while they are driving, breaking a 2004 traffic law that bans any behavior that hinders safe driving.
“In a car, if you had software that can sync with your WeChat, that would be very useful,” said Mao Yanan, a Beijing resident who admits to holding her phone to use the app while driving.
Other automakers are also eyeing apps and online services.
In August, General Motors Co
Nissan wants the app in its cars at some point, a spokeswoman said. Daimler, which owns the Mercedes-Benz brand popular in China, is also researching how to include apps and services from Tencent and rivals Baidu Inc
“The race is on, very clearly,” Troska told reporters in Beijing last week.
(Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Kenneth Maxwell)
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