China’s Jia Yueting Vows an Electric Race Against Elon Musk
Norihiko Shirouzu & Paul Lienert
Beijing | Detroit: Tomorrow’s cars will be all-electric, self-driving, connected to high-speed communications networks... and free. And probably Chinese.
That, at least, is the vision of Jia Yueting, a billionaire entrepreneur and one of a new breed of Chinese who see their technology expertise re-engineering the automobile industry, and usurping Tesla Motors, a US pioneer in premium electric vehicle (EV) making.
“Tesla’s a great company and has taken the global car industry to the EV era,” Jia said in an interview at the Beijing headquarters of his Le Holdings, or LeEco. “But we’re not just building a car. We consider the car a smart mobile device on four wheels, essentially no different from a cellphone or tablet.”
“We hope to surpass Tesla and lead the industry leapfrogging to a new age,” sa- id Jia. A wave of EV startups has emerged in China after the government opened up the auto industry to deep-pocketed tech firms to drive a switch to cleaner electric as an eventual alternative to gasoline cars. Sceptics wonder just how startups like LeEco will deliver on their grand visions.
As a sign of intent, 43-year-old Jia last week unveiled the LeSEE electric concept supercar, a rival to Tesla’s Model S. The “smart, connected and self-driving” car will be displayed at this week’s Beijing autoshow. “People questioned our idea, a small IT company building a car to compete with the BMWs and Teslas of the world, and laughed at us. It wasn’t easy, but here we are,” Jia said.
MADE IN NEVADA
LeEco hopes to start producing a version of the LeSEE in a few years at a plant being built near Las Vegas by US strategic partner Faraday Future, in which Jia has invested. Those cars would be sold in the US and China. Further ahead, the plan is to produce electric cars in China, too, probably through a partnership with BAIC Motor.
The web-connected electric cars will have a “disruptive” pricing model similar to phones and TV sets LeEco markets in China, Jia says. His company, often called China’s Netflix, will sell movies, TV shows, music and other content and services to drivers of its cars. That’s why he says, “one day our cars will be free.” Nearer-term, the disruption is more likely to be “double the performance at half the price”.
“We define our car in a whole new way... instead of copying Apple and Tesla,” LeEco cofounder and vice chairman Hank Liu said. “Our products are not upgraded from those that already exist. They are revolutionary.”
While the entry barrier has been lowered as electric cars are, mechanically, relatively simpler to produce, skeptics query how China’s startups will fund and make tens of thousands of industrychanging EVs — from design through to procuring the 10,000 or so parts and systems needed for the finished product. Daimler said Hubertus Troska, head of its Greater China business, was invited to LeEco last month to get to know the firm and its business model. “I told Troska we’re going to redefine the car,” Liu said.
“EVs for us are just another screen. We see cars in the future as an extension of the internet, another entry point for us to sell webbased content and services.”
To help fund LeEcos’ EV push, Jias’ sister sold her stake in the company and lent the money to him interest-free. He also sold part of his own stake. Ding Lei, LeEco’s auto chief and a former top official at General Motors’ China venture with SAIC Motor, says part of LeEco’s advantage in tomorrow’s auto industry is that it carries no baggage from today’s. — Reuters
Make Way for LeSEE