Huawei promises to share driving in its new smart car business

If there's one thing we've learned from Huawei's annual analyst event this week it is that it's definitely not building its own car – right?

As rumors about a Huawei car swirled last year, founder Ren Zhengfei threatened to punish anyone who said the company should go into the auto business.

In February Reuters reported from multiple sources that a Huawei smart car was on the way.

Traffic jam: Huawei says they won't be building their own car - but never say never. (Source: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash)
Traffic jam: Huawei says they won't be building their own car – but never say never.
(Source: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash)

The company denied the report and this week in front of analysts and media it reiterated that its aim was to adapt its ICT technologies to smart cars in collaboration with the industry.

But people, and that includes car industry people, remember that some years ago Huawei also swore black and blue it would not make mobile phones or TVs.

Brand awareness

What we do know is that there will be Huawei co-branded cars, with the company revealing it will brand its in-vehicle presence with a logo on the vehicle body.

We can see the first of these in Q4 when the Arcfox cars built in partnership with BAIC Blue Valley roll off the line. Huawei is also reported to be collaborating with Changan Automobile and the GAC Group.

By contrast, rival Xiaomi has confirmed it's going to build its own, unveiling plans to spend $10 billion on the auto business over the next ten years.

"Smart electric vehicles represent one of the largest business opportunities in the next decade and represent an indispensable component of smart living," CEO Lei Jun said on March 30.

He described it as "a natural choice" for the world's number four smartphone vendor as it worked to expand its "smart AIoT ecosystem."

It's notable that of the six "distinct and unique advantages" Lei claims for Xiaomi, five apply equally to Huawei; for example, its software-hardware integration capability, smart ecosystem and inventory of relevant IP.

Huawei didn't say a lot more about its smart car plans this week, other than revealing a $1 billion budget, and rotating chairman Eric Xu's brag that its autonomous driving was ahead of Tesla's.

Huawei has set up a dedicated business unit, Intelligent Automotive Solutions, which says it has built a new architecture with intelligent systems for driving, e-cockpit and the auto cloud, among other things.

Interestingly, it also says it brings "a new joint development model, in which Huawei works with automakers and leverages its technological advantages to jointly design and develop high-quality cars."

Perhaps the suggestion of joint design and development is where the rumors stem from.

Slow and sure

But according to one industry analyst the China auto industry is cautious about cooperating with Huawei, known for its business aggression and its ability to march successfully into new segments.

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That apprehension is understandable, and not just about Huawei. The auto sector somewhat resembles the computer industry before the advent of the Mac and Wintel models that sidelined the hardware and engineering.

With more than a million EVs shipping annually in China alone, the auto market is too big for Huawei to miss. That $1 billion investment is just the start.

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— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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