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Taking on Tesla: China's Jia Yueting aims to outmuscle Musk

Taking on Tesla: China's Jia Yueting aims to outmuscle Musk
A Chinese entrepreneur is planning to usurp Tesla Motors, a U.S. pioneer in premium electric vehicle (EV) making and intends to re-engineer the automobile industry.
Jia Yueting, a billionaire and one of a new breed of Chinese entrepreneur.
"Tesla's a great company and has taken the global car industry to the EV era. But we're not just building a car. We consider the car a smart mobile device on four wheels, essentially no different to a cellphone or tablet. We hope to surpass Tesla and lead the industry leapfrogging to a new age," Jia said in an interview at the Beijing headquarters of his Le Holdings Co, or LeEco.
After the government opened up the auto industry to deep-pocketed technology firms to drive a switch to cleaner electric as an eventual alternative to gasoline cars, there has been the emergence of a wave of EV start-ups in China. Sceptics wonder just how start-ups like LeEco will deliver on their grand visions.
A rival to Tesla's Model S, the 43-year-old Jia last week unveiled the LeSEE electric concept supercar. 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 told Reuters.
A plant being built near Las Vegas by U.S. strategic partner Faraday Future, in which Jia has invested would be the place where LeEco hopes to start producing a version of the LeSEE in a few years. Those cars would be sold in the United States and China. Further ahead, probably through a partnership with BAIC Motor, the plan is to produce electric cars in China.
A "disruptive" pricing model similar to phones and TV sets LeEco markets in China would be tagged for the web-connected electric cars,  Jia says. Movies, TV shows, music and other content and services would be sold to drivers of its cars  by his company, often called China's Netflix. That's why he says "one day our cars will be free."
More than half a dozen EV start-ups, such as NextEV and CH-Auto have been funded by Chinese tech heavyweights including Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent  and Xiaomi apart from LeEco. It's widely expected China's bus, taxi and courier firms will be encouraged to go electric.
"We define our car in a whole new way ... instead of copying Apple and Tesla. Our products are not upgraded from those that already exist. They are revolutionary ... products that never existed before," LeEco co-founder and vice chairman Hank Liu told Reuters.
Skeptics query how China's start-ups will fund and make tens of thousands of industry-changing EVs - from design through to procuring the 10,000 or so parts and systems needed for the finished product even though the entry barrier has been lowered as electric cars are, mechanically, relatively simpler to produce.
Daimler said Hubertus Troska, head of its Greater China business, was invited to LeEco last month to get to know the company and its business model.
"I told Mr. Troska we're going to redefine the car. 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 web-based content and services," Liu told Reuters.


Christopher J. Mitchell

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