Ford and the Alibaba Group have signed an agreement to explore cooperation opportunities in the areas of connectivity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), mobility services, digital marketing, and online sales.

As part of the three-year agreement, the two firms will explore partnership possibilities with Alibaba's Alimama digital marketing division, as well as how the AliOS operating system and Alibaba Cloud services may be integrated into future Ford models, including so-called "smart vehicles".

It's not known, at this stage, whether any of the fruit from these potential partnerships will be sold in Ford models outside of China.

The two companies will also explore "new retail opportunities at various stages of the automotive ownership cycle", including pre-sales, test drives, and leasing.

According to Reuters, the automaker and the online behemoth will also study if Ford and Lincoln vehicles can be sold through Alibaba's Tmall online store.

"Collaborating with leading technology players builds on our vision for smart vehicles in a smart world to reimagine and revolutionise consumers’ mobility experiences," said Jim Hackett, Ford's CEO.

Daniel Zhang, the Alibaba Group's CEO, stated: "Our data-driven technology and platform will expand the definition of car ownership beyond just having a mode of transportation and into a new medium for smart lifestyle.”

Alibaba is often characterised as China's equivalent of Amazon, as both companies have dominant and hugely successful online shopping and cloud-based computing businesses. Unlike Amazon, Alibaba started life as a platform for companies to sell products to other companies.

Ford is playing catch up in the world's most populous country, where it lags well behind both the Volkswagen Group, with its Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda brands, and GM's assortment of marques, including Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Baojun and Wuling.

The Blue Oval plans on releasing 50 new vehicle lines in China by 2025, including eight SUVs, 15 electrified models, and a new range of pure-electric vehicles under a new joint venture brand with Zotye.