Alibaba is Preparing a “Tesla Killer”

Zhiji Motor, aka IM, has announced an electric sedan and crossover. We tell you where they came from and what is interesting about them?

The line between automakers and players from other industries is rapidly blurring as the very concept of cars changes. Sooner or later, unmanned capsules that you don’t even need to own will become a reality – hence the interest of IT giants in all four-wheeled vehicles. Sony is already testing its own prototype on the road, rumors about the development of an Apple car have circulated again, Amazon, Baidu, Yandex and Waymo are active.

So the Chinese concern Alibaba did not stand aside, having invested in the creation of a new brand Zhiji Motor – or, for the Western public, IM (Intelligence in Motion). Moreover, for the company this is not the first experience in the automotive field: in 2018, a vendomat with real Fords was launched in Guangzhou, and since 2015, Alibaba has been helping SAIC to create cars with integrated Internet services. So the next step looks absolutely logical.

The main initiator (and investor with 54% of the capital) here is the same SAIC, a state concern that has existed since the 1950s. At one time, he collected licensed Volkswagen Passat, in the late 1990s he paved the way to the Chinese market for General Motors (and thereby saved the Buick brand), and in the 2000s he bought the assets of bankrupt Britons from MG Rover – and the second brand along the way turned into Roewe … Over the past 10 years, these two names have produced unremarkable cars and crossovers – but now SAIC has decided that it is time to enter the automotive elite.

The approach is broadly similar to other similar startups that have emerged in recent years. The debut model will be a five-meter electric sedan, which should go on sale in the fall and winter, followed by a crossover, which so far exists only in the form of a layout. It is noteworthy that the design was ordered from the British studio Heatherwick – which, in fact, specializes in architecture, and from automobile projects it has only a new generation of double-decker London buses. Which, however, is also symbolic: the interior is given no less attention than the exterior.

The interior of the pre-production (and so far unnamed) IM sedan can really surprise – first of all, an endless 39-inch display stretched across the entire front panel. If suddenly this is not enough for you, on the center console there is another screen with a “modest” diagonal of 12.8 inches, vividly reminiscent of the new Mercedes-Benz S-class.

In addition, there are as many as 15 high-definition video cameras, 17 radars and a separate video recorder on board – obviously, in order not only to provide autonomous driving, but also to record it in all its details. Automation works on the new architecture Nvidia Drive AGX Orin – it is about 7 times more powerful than the previous generation Xavier and is capable of performing over 500 trillion operations per second.

Actually, it was with electronic technologies that the IT specialists from Alibaba helped the new brand. It has already been announced that the first-born IM will be able to independently drive up from the parking lot to the owner in the manner of Tesla, and the technical and software capacities should be enough to provide fully autonomous driving “from door to door”. The question is where and to what extent this will be permitted by law – but there is no information on this just yet.

However, there are details on the technical side. The IM sedan will be equipped with two electric motors with a total output of 544 hp. and 700 Nm, which should be enough to accelerate to hundreds in 3.9 seconds. The base battery will have a capacity of 93 kWh, but an optional 115-kilowatt battery can be ordered with a range of almost 900 kilometers. However, today you will not surprise anyone with this, as well as with a fully controlled chassis, albeit tuned by Williams Advanced Engineering specialists.

What is curious is the wireless charging feature: the IM threatens to be the world’s first production car to be equipped with such a system. It is promised that in an hour it can replenish the power reserve by 70-80 kilometers – a lot, although right now, without developed infrastructure, it looks more like pampering than a workable notion.

Nevertheless, remember: 10 years ago the same was said about electric vehicles in general, and now it only remains to recognize the scale of their offensive. So IM is set up ambitiously: the presentation of the models took place simultaneously in Shanghai, London and Las Vegas, although the acceptance of orders has so far been announced only for the Middle Kingdom – this should happen in April. And there, you see, the company will begin to embody the idea inherent in the Chinese name Zhiji – “knowledge of everything and the ability to help the world.”