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China’s geek car dream: a millennial revolution?

Making a car utilizing open resources sounds crazy in the tightly protected automobile kingdom that has lasted for more than a century. But a revolution is unavoidable in this era of daily rapid technology changes.

While many people with ideas fail to act, we have seen a “revolutionary alliance” of four individuals from different professions with different personalities. What explains this crazy move? As a witness I can only say that the four came together because great minds think alike.

When the OpenCarLab idea was mentioned in April by Hu Weiwei, founder of geekcar.cn, yongche.com CEO Zhou Hang was excited. “It would be awesome if you can make your own dream car!” Zhou said. “What is wrong with consumers participating in making an automobile? Why can’t an automobile be redefined? Why does it have to have four wheels? Why does it have to look like what it is today? Why does it have to use existing materials?” he asks.

Zhou’s yongche.com (meaning car use) is a classic example of how the Internet has changed a traditional car rental business. Instead of purchasing and renting cars, yongche.com connects car owners and car users providing customized rental service based on service time.

Ken (Yilun) Ying is a leader in China’s connected vehicle business. The chairman of pateo.com.cn is known as No. 1 in China’s digital advertisement and No. 1 in creating the inkaNet infotainment system in China based on Android technology.

Ying was already working on specifics when Joe (Yiping) Xia struck on the idea of OpenCarLab on April 24. Representatives of Corning Inc., the world’s largest specialty glass supplier that provides iPhone screens, were meeting on April 25 with Ying’s team at his Pateo headquarters describing the third generation Gorilla glass. Already attracted by the potentials of intelligent automobiles, Ying has been planning to make a so-called qinggan (high feeling) connected automobile for tens of millions of consumers. As the founder of China’s only IT company that has made huge profit by providing solutions for connected vehicles, Ying knows first-hand how painful it is to see OEMs unable to utilize advanced technologies. Even Corning is not yet able to supply OEMs with its third-generation Gorilla glass despite the fact that it has passed safety collision test and the quality and durability of its first generation of Gorilla glass on iPhones has been proven by hundreds of millions of global fans.

Du Jiangling, director of GM’s China Science and Research Institute and former president of Intel’s China Research Center, is highly experienced in computer applications, wireless and mobile communications and automotive forward-looking technologies. And Joe Xia worked as Ford Asia Pacific’s manager of product planning and development, responsible for the Applink project.

There has been an added member of the C(razy)5 who is still anonymous. He comes from the connected vehicle business and may be identified soon.

There is no doubt that the C5 members see the same opportunities in the era of mobile connectedness in the world’s largest automobile market. The interaction of personal experience, inter-connectedness and connected vehicles are bound to create gigantic changes. “When the intellects of tens of millions of people start to interact on the OpenCarLab platform, who knows what revolutionary innovations may be created in the process?” said Ying.

Outsiders tend to focus on the risks of OpenCarLab. What if you fail, they would ask. To such a question the same answer came from both Xia and Ying: “Let us take the first step and then we will worry about the second.”

Opportunities may come and go. But grabbing an opportunity needs solid preparedness.

Moving away from the age of overly concerns about money and profit, the C5 envisions the generation of intelligence through OpenCarLab so as to create a new playing ground of equality and happiness. “We would like to create an equal, enthusiastic and innovative culture,” Ying said.

Zhou Hang brought up in his smart phone two projects to prove his point. One is Facebook’s purchase of the drone startup company Titan Aerospace for $60 million. Titan makes robots that fly at a height of 20,000 km for five years on solar power, making it possible to provide broadband service to remote areas.

The other is Google X Lab’s Loon project – sending hot-air balloons to stratosphere in order to enhance Internet connection. Google is also launching the Link optical fiber to provide faster and more convenient broadband transmission to U.S. Internet servers.

When more and more people start working on this crazy and non-utilitarian dream, it may become a reality one day. It is possible that someday a geek in the U.S. would demonstrate on his smart phone the OpenCarLab project that comes from China.

(Rewritten by Wayne Xing based on author’s article in Shanghai Securities)

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