That's why Volvo Cars is forming a company with Chinese IT start-ups

The Chinese tech company Ecarx recently established itself in Sweden but has so far not made much of a difference – until now. Ecarx is now forming a joint partnership with Volvo Cars, something that will speed up and reduce expenses for the development of a platform for the Geely Group’s infotainment system.

Ecarx has 1,700 employees in China and develops everything from computer chips to cloud solutions. The company is owned by its largest customer – Geely – together with Baidu, founder Ziyu Shen and a couple of other investors.

The company is now establishing a European head office and will soon move into Uni3 – Geely’s innovation center on Lindholmen in Gothenburg.

The main focus for the company’s Swedish branch is towards infotainment and interaction between driver and car. Ecarx products are already available in 2.5 million cars worldwide, mainly in car brands such as Lynk & Co, Proton and Geely.

In the future, the company will cooperate with Volvo Cars within the framework of a joint company that will be launched in the third quarter of this year. The head of the new collaboration will be Jan-Erik Larsson, who is currently head of Volvo Cars in China.

Read more: Volvo gets group competition when Geely launches “Zeekr”

– Developing an infotainment platform is extremely costly, at the same time as it is a very central and important part of a modern car. Through the collaboration, we will share the very basis of the infotainment system, which Volvo Cars and Geely Auto are, however, free to build on to give the right feeling to their respective car owners, says Peter Rogbrant, CEO of Ecarx.

Displays rig for test purposes

Ny Teknik meets him at Geely’s innovation center, where he, together with system solution architect Andreas Rosenlind and chief operating officer Zhenwei Rex Yang, talks about the company’s visions and shows a test rig that the company uses for testing purposes.

– That Ecarx chose Gothenburg as the basis for the international expansion was quite obvious. Volvo Cars is here, Geely already has several other companies here and the region has a strong vehicle cluster, says Peter Rogbrant.

According to him, an expansion may await not only in Europe but also to other parts of the world in the future, depending on how and where the Geely Group and Ecarx’s other customers expand.

– We will always support Geely, but we see great opportunities to work together with other, external, customers, including competitors of Geely. Within a few years, I expect that we have grown and been able to expand to a few more places in Europe, depending on what the development for our customers looks like, says Peter Rogbrant.

Read more: Here are China’s grand plans for self-driving cars

The basis of the company’s infotainment system includes certain basic functions, but the idea is that customers, ie car manufacturers, should provide their cars with specially adapted functions that are different for each customer. Ecarx can also produce a complete solution that includes everything.

From infotainment to cloud solutions

– We work with all software that in some way has a connection to drivers and passengers. There are functions for both infotainment in the car and services in the cloud and how these are integrated with the car’s electrical architecture. Then each customer can choose for themselves if they want to produce the final look for the car owner or if we should solve it, says Andreas Rosenlind.

Read more: China’s electric car boom has Tesla as a model

In some of its latest car models such as the XC60, S90 and V90, Volvo Cars has chosen an Android-based infotainment system, which includes Google Assistant, navigation via Google Maps and various other built-in apps from Google Play. Ecarx representatives are well aware of the ecosystems that exist, but do not want to explicitly say whether Ecarx will use only one ecosystem or several.

– It is quite clear that we must enter into partnerships with larger ecosystems to succeed. Apple’s ecosystem, for example, is more locked in and proprietary, while Android with its ecosystem itself is open. We are strong advocates of open source code and apart from the fact that it is stupid to reinvent the wheel, we see many benefits of contributing changes and additions to open source communities, says Andreas Rosenlind.

Read more: Volvo Cars and Geely create a joint company

Ecarx in Gothenburg currently has only a handful of employees, but expects to increase the recruitment rate during the year and eventually become around a hundred employees – or even more.

Develops own chips

The Chinese part of Ecarx develops its own chips, which has no direct connection to the Swedish operations. However, it means certain benefits, in times of global chip shortage for the automotive industry.

Read more: Therefore, the chip shortage causes the car industry to stop rolling

– Using proprietary chips is a strategic decision that we made long before the chip shortage became a fact. So far, we have not been affected by the chip shortage, but it is possible that in the long run we will also be affected. An advantage of using own chips instead of chips from, for example, Qualcomm is that our chips are less general and more specific for our purposes, which we believe is an advantage, says Zhenwei Rex Yang.

Watch Ny Teknik’s filmed interview with EcarX by clicking here!

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