Alibaba Explores Online Mapping, Takes Stake in Autonavi For $294 Million

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Autonavi apps 100 million users

This is what Alibaba wants: Autonavi’s mobile maps know-how and market reach.

You can wait years for a big deal to hit the Chinese web, but recently the blockbuster moves are coming in thick and fast. The latest sees e-commerce company Alibaba taking an approximate 28 percent stake in Autonavi (NASDAQ:AMAP), makers of online maps and navigation. This comes just two weeks after Alibaba got more social by taking a 18 percent stake in Sina Weibo, the country’s hottest social network right now.

Autonavi is China’s top independent online mapping company, with over 100 million users on its mobile apps, constituting just over 25 percent market share among mobile maps in China. Search giant Baidu is second in this sector, while Google Maps continues to lose market share. This evening’s announcement points out:

The parties plan to share certain data, including AutoNavi’s map data and location-related information of the merchants on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms, including Taobao Marketplace and AutoNavi and Alibaba will also cooperate in the areas of map engine, location search, navigation and cloud computing services and will cross-promote their respective products and services, with a goal of developing new location-based business models.

Joseph C. Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba, and Eddie Wu, president of Alibaba’s mobile products division, will join AutoNavi’s board of directors upon the closing of the transaction. The transaction is expected to close in the near future, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions.

Alibaba, which is today celebrating 10 years of Taobao, its eBay-beating C2C shopping site, has been diversifying in the past year. Aside from acquiring the social music service Xiami last year and today’s significant stake in Autonavi, there’s lots of talk that the e-shopping behemoth is planning to do a lot of shopping of its own, with rumors of acquisitions/stakes in Umeng (mobile ads and analytics for app developers) and UCWeb, makers of the hugely popular mobile browser UC Browser. It’s no coincidence that these all relate to mobile.

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