When Apple's Tim Cook recently stepped into a sedan car from Didi Chuxing – China’s fast-growing ride-sharing company – he probably sat back and heaved a sigh of relief. Apple had just invested $1 billion in the company and in so doing secured a piece of China's futuristic car business, in which automakers and tech companies are creating a so-called "internet of vehicles".
This clunky phrase describes a brave new marketplace where internet-connected cars drive autonomously, entertain their passengers, interact with other vehicles and navigate happily by themselves. Platforms such as Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto have started to make the concept a reality, but many analysts believe China is where the real action will be played out. Foreign – non Chinese – companies beware. Find Chinese partners quick or face life out in the cold... and unconnected.
Two major trends combine to make China this influential innovation hub. Firstly, the sheer size of the car market. With 24.6m cars sold in 2015, it stands alone as the biggest in the world. Secondly, the average Chinese consumer is young, connected and demanding. An amazing 60 per cent of Chinese new car buyers would switch brands if it meant improving the all-important level of connectivity, according to a 2015 McKinsey survey.