• This is our inaugural China Tech Briefings report. In this series, we will track news and developments related to China technology companies and share our viewpoints on how these will impact the retail sector and the overall economy.
  • Alibaba recently announced another tie-up with global automakers, this time with Daimler, Audi and Volvo, that will allow owners of several models of Mercedes Benz, Audi and Volvo vehicles in China to connect to Alibaba’s smart speaker Tmall Genie using voice commands in Mandarin Chinese.
  • Tmall Genie, with over 2 million units sold in China, provides entertainment and interactive education functions, much like Amazon’s Echo, and allows users to monitor their homes and offices. Now, Tmall Genie users can also monitor their vehicles and perform simple in-car tasks such as locking the doors, adjusting the air conditioning (A/C) and even planning a route.
  • Alibaba is working on integrating its AliGenie, Tmall Genie’s open development platform for voice-assistant applications, more deeply into vehicles’ operating software to develop more use cases to reinvent and improve the car experience.

Mercedes, Audis and Volvos to Adopt Alibaba’s Smart Speaker Tmall Genie

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced that three global automakers—Daimler (which owns the Mercedes Benz brand), Audi and Volvo—will become the first carmakers to add its smart speaker Tmall Genie to the range of smart devices compatible with their connected car apps. Several models of the luxury car brands in China will be able to connect to Tmall Genie, allowing users to interact with their vehicles using voice commands in Mandarin Chinese.

Cars have increasingly become an environment where individuals spend a significant amount of time, and this is becoming more evident in China, as car ownership picks up and as people spend more time in traffic. Bringing connectivity to consumers in vehicles presents an opportunity to improve the consumer experience. “Identifying how to serve car users with our smart home assistant Tmall Genie is one of our top priorities. We are thrilled to partner with distinguished auto brands such as Daimler, Audi and Volvo to drive the revolution of smart mobility in China,” said Lijuan Chen, Head of Alibaba AI Labs, the artificial intelligence (AI) division of Alibaba that develops AI-powered consumer applications and products.

Although smartphones already provide numerous functionalities to consumers, we believe that the vehicle environment has the potential to provide more navigation and entertainment features through improved connectivity and smart speakers.

How Tmall Genie Functions in a Vehicle Environment

Launched in July 2017, Tmall Genie is a voice-controlled smart speaker developed by Alibaba in China. The device is powered by its human-computer voice-interaction platform, called AliGenie 2.0, which understands commands in Mandarin Chinese. Over 2 million Tmall Genie units have been sold in China as of March 2018. According to Alibaba, users spend on average close to an hour a day using the smart assistant, and around 300,000 smart home devices are voice-controlled by Tmall Genie daily.

When connected with a vehicle, the smart speaker can provide and perform the following tasks:

  • Entertainment: Users can play music and place orders on the Tmall platform by speaking to the device, similar to Amazon Echo.
  • Education: The smart device can read aloud children’s books or Chinese words for interactive learning.
  • Monitor and control the home environment: Tmall Genie can automatically turn on or off lights, thermostats and other home appliances, and check that the doors and windows are closed and locked when the user drives past a designated area near their home using geofencing technology.
  • Monitor and control the vehicle environment: The device can help plan a route and perform simple in-car tasks such as turning the A/C on or off and opening the windows.

Alibaba’s AI Labs is working on integrating the AliGenie platform more deeply into vehicles’ operating software to develop more use cases in a car environment, with more navigation and entertainment features.


Commuting in a vehicle is a part of daily life for many people around the world, and increasingly so in China, as vehicle ownership rises, and one that can be both dull and time consuming. Turning a vehicle into a connected environment presents an opportunity to enhance the user experience. At this stage, Tmall Genie can provide entertainment such as playing music or offer interactive learning to passengers, help monitor one’s home, such as checking whether the doors are locked, and perform simple car operations, such as starting the vehicle or turning on the A/C. We believe Alibaba will continue to develop and launch more functionalities for Tmall Genie specific to the automobile environment to improve the vehicle experience both for passengers and drivers.   

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