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Exclusive | Alibaba-backed smart car startup Banma appoints co-CEO and seeks new fundraising round

Alibaba is trying to gain more control over the smart vehicle operating system.

Photo: Stock.tuchong.com

Banma Network, a joint venture between e-commerce giant Alibaba and Chinese automaker SAIC Motor, is expanding its presence by virtue of appointing new executives and seeking fundraising.

The company has appointed Zhang Chunhui, the former head of Cainiao ET lab in Alibaba and early head of Alibaba’s operating system AliOS, as the company’s co-CEO, local tech media 36Kr learned from sources close to Banma executives.

This change in management is part of Alibaba’s latest move to gain more control over the smart vehicle operating system, which is a key element to offer a smart in-car experience to drivers and passengers. After this reshuffle, Zhang will take over the development of technology, product, and operation of the company while existing CEO Hao Fei will be responsible for marketing and sales.

Banma is recently seeking a new round of funding, and potential investors include a recently founded industrial fund affiliated with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, several investors close to Banma told 36Kr. The estimated value of the company has reached RMB 14 billion (USD 2 billion).

Also, Alibaba will soon announce a partnership with state-owned automaker FAW Group on the automotive internet of things, and participants include Banma and Alibaba’s mapping unit AutoNavi, sources close to the deal told 36Kr.

Banma has not responded to 36Kr’s inquiries for a comment on those issues.

Banma was founded in 2015 by Alibaba and SAIC Motor with a joint investment of RMB 1 billion. The company launched its AliOS-based vehicle connectivity solution in 2016 and first applied it to SAIC Motor’s Roewe RX5, which attracted many customers with an intelligent driving experience. Banma claimed that over 700,000 vehicles have equipped with its in-vehicle operating system.

Banma has completed its first funding round in September 2018, raising over RMB 1.6 billion. The fundraising was led by the state-backed SDIC Fund Management Company Ltd., along with SAIC Motor’s investment arm Shang Qi Capital and Yunfeng Capital, a venture capital fund co-founded by Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Hao Fei, Banma’s existing CEO hinted that the company had reached a valuation of USD 1 billion, although the exact figure was not disclosed.

Alibaba and SAIC Motor announced in August to deepen their strategic cooperation in August to build the next generation smart vehicles. As part of the deal, both parties will restructure Banma by injecting the intellectual property and businesses of Alibaba’s self-developed operating system AliOS. Alibaba has become the largest stakeholder of Banma after the restructure.

36Kr is KrASIA’s parent company.