Ford is in talks with Tencent over the business aspects of putting the app in its cars, Huang said. Tencent declined to comment.
Huang said Ford envisages drivers syncing their phone to the car’s software system and controlling specific WeChat functions, chosen by Tencent and then certified by Ford as safe, through voice commands or limited use of buttons.
Making WeChat and other apps convenient, safe and legal to use while driving could help automakers gain market share in China, especially as auto sales growth eases in a slowing economy. Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, said connectivity was a key deciding factor for Chinese customers buying a car.
“Those kind of things are the fundamental things people will consider,” he added.
Many Chinese use WeChat’s free voice messaging feature instead of phone calls, holding up their smartphones like a walkie-talkie as they speak, tap and listen to replies.
They often do that while they are driving, breaking a 2004 traffic law that bans any behavior that hinders safe driving.