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Electric cars in China

Huawei unveils HarmonyOS-based EV developed with BAIC

Premium cars to be mass-produced later this year, taking aim at Tesla

The Arcfox Alpha S crossover SUV was unveiled on April 17. (Photo from Arcfox's official Weibo account)   © Arcfox Weibo

SHANGHAI -- Huawei Technologies launched five automated-driving solutions Sunday, including one that runs on its HarmonyOS operating system.

The products, which will be mass-produced in cars to be co-developed with automakers later this year, is part of the telecommunications hardware company's $1 billion investment in self-driving and electric-vehicle research in 2021 to capture the rising demand for electrics in the world's largest auto market.

The launch was preceded by Saturday's unveiling of two versions of the Arcfox Alpha S, a premium electric vehicle co-developed by Huawei's intelligent automotive solutions business unit; and Arcfox, a unit of state-controlled automaker BAIC Group.

Both versions were also fitted with HarmonyOS, marking its debut in a vehicle ahead of Huawei's smartphones. Huawei has been developing HarmonyOS following trade sanctions imposed by the U.S., which regarded Huawei and other Chinese companies as national security risks. The Shenzhen-based company recently said that Washington's actions have hurt the company's progress and created a chip crunch affecting the global semiconductor industry.

"We have established extensive cooperation with about 200 global automakers and industry partners," Wang Jun, president of the intelligent automotive solutions unit, told reporters Sunday. Wang leads a 5,000-strong workforce consisting of researchers, 2,000 of whom are focusing on automated-driving technologies.

Huawei will offer solutions to others but not manufacture cars itself, unlike rival Xiaomi. "If we can do well in vehicle parts, why do we need to produce cars?" asked Wang, who explained that making cars is not necessarily a moneymaker.

Wang Jun, president of Huawei's intelligent automotive solutions business, unveils on April 18 five products for "level 4" automated driving. (Photo courtesy of Huawei Technologies)   © Huawei

The $1 billion investment reflects the company's belief that artificial-intelligence-powered smart vehicles will be the most disruptive industry force over the next decade.

Huawei's intelligent solutions center on a new computing and communications architecture that controls driving, connectivity, and the entertainment system, as well as cloud technology.

For example, the intelligent cockpit running on the HarmonyOS can transform the windshield into a 70-inch high-definition screen, enabling passengers to watch movies, play games and hold videoconferences. It operates like a smartphone ecosystem that allows users to connect to their favorite apps.

Huawei's announcements came ahead of the 19th Shanghai auto show, which will open to the press Monday and to the public later in the week. Both local and international automakers are expected to unveil new models to meet growing demand for electric vehicles.

Led by U.S. company Tesla and homegrown rival Nio, sales of so-called new-energy vehicles increased 11% to 1.37 million units in China in 2020 even as auto sales here contracted 1.9% to 25.3 million units.

"There are 30 million vehicles in China's market," Xu Zhijun, Huawei's current rotating chairman, told analysts last Monday.

"Even if we do not expand our vehicle business to foreign countries, we are still self-sustainable with the surging demand in the domestic market, with the average annual revenue of 10,000 yuan [$1,533] per car," Xu said. "But surely, Huawei is a global brand and will not just focus on the local market."

Market research firm Canalys projected in February that Chinese sales of electrics would grow 51% this year. "But with Tesla expanding its portfolio in China, it will be hard for competitors offering premium EVs to gain market share," Vice President Sandy Fitzpatrick said in a news release. "With that in mind, some Chinese car makers are already looking for growth opportunities in other parts of the world, especially Europe."

The basic and high-end HI versions of Arcfox's pure-electric Alpha S crossover sport utility vehicle mark Huawei's mass production of an automated driving system. They feature lidar, the radar-style light detection technology that is key to automating driving. A Huawei spokesperson said the vehicles could reach level 3, or "conditional driving automation," on a scale where level 5 requires no human interaction.

With price tags of 388,900 yuan and 429,900 yuan, they carry Huawei's logo, in line with the diversification of the technology company's portfolio beyond smartphones and 5G network devices. The vehicles can run 708 km per charge. The Tesla Model Y sells for about 350,000 yuan and has a range of 594 km.

Besides BAIC Motor, Huawei is also teaming up with two other state-controlled automakers -- Chongqing Changan Automobile and Guangzhou Automobile Group -- to develop automated vehicles.

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