Qihoo 360 turn: Chinese smart carmaker Hozon Auto teams up with cybersecurity giant

By Elles Houweling

Chinese cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360 will ink a partnership with electric vehicle (EV) startup Hozon Auto. Qihoo 360 CEO and founder Hongyi Zhou announced the plan to join the elite club of tech CEOs turned smart-carmakers at a company meeting on Tuesday. Household names such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Baidu have recently revealed similar plans to enter the automotive industry.

The Qihoo 360 announcement comes after Hozon Auto-owned EV brand Nezha announced in April that it planned to raise roughly 3 billion Chinese yuan (about $467m) in a Series D financing round. The cybertech firm is leading the raise and, according to Chinese media, is expected to become Hozon Auto’s second largest shareholder at its close.

The formal confirmation of a partnership between the two companies was met with ample media attention in China, where the appetite for home-grown smart vehicles has grown in recent years.

Some, however, were left sceptical as Qihoo 360’s core business is internet security, not vehicles. Zhou countered that, in his opinion, “not too many internet companies are building cars, but too few,” adding that “without the help of the internet, car manufacturers would still follow traditional ways of thinking by replacing fuel tanks with batteries. Although this is a change in the industry, it cannot be considered a paradigm change.”

Zhou explained that Qihoo 360 aims to take over the software development aspect for the vehicle’s design. “For a good smart car, the hardware is the body and the software is the soul,” the CEO said. “360 will use internet technology and the ideology of connectedness to transform Nezha’s traditional car manufacturing model into a connected car model.”

Qihoo 360 will likely bring its expertise in the area of cybersecurity into the smart car industry. Zhou said, “[Smart] cars are expected to become one of the largest players in the field of smart technology, and network security – as well as the cybersecurity of connected vehicles – will inevitably become an important aspect of 360’s future strategy.”

The fear of car hacking has become a growing concern among connected car owners. Last month, cyber insurer HSB found that a third of smart vehicle owners are worried that their cars will be hacked.

Qihoo 360 is the largest provider of internet and mobile security products in China. According to GlobalData’s companies database, its product portfolio includes security guards, mobile guards, safe browsers, antivirus software and mobile assistants. It also provides entertainment services, loan navigation and credit guards.

The company previously owned a research group dedicated to automobile security, 360 Sky-Go Team, which carried out cooperations with several mainstream auto brands like Mercedes-Benz and BYD.

Qihoo 360 and Hozon Auto will also jointly set up a research centre in Beijing to promote the smart car revolution.