Well-funded internet companies in China see electric vehicles as a very smart investment channel.
Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. is a major investor in NextEV, a Shanghai-based startup looking to compete with Tesla Motors. About 500 engineers are working for NextEV to unveil its first electric car in 2017.
“Our goal is to build a high-end, high-performance electric car for half the price of a Tesla car,” said Li Bin, co-founder and chairman of NextEV.
The Chinese government is concerned that conventional automakers may not have what it takes to roll out innovative, exciting new EVs to win over the hearts of Chinese consumers. EVs are an integral part of its policies as China struggles to cut pollution and reduce its dependence on imported energy. Increased incentivizing has opened opportunities for smaller companies to build and sell EVs in China.
China’s industrial regulator amended rules last year to allow non-automakers to invest in the electric car industry. That’s raised interest among Chinese internet companies, and Silicon Valley, to join the race for EV product innovation.
The Chinese tech firm that has been investing heavily in U.S.-based Faraday Future now has an autonomous electric car of its own. LeEco has just debuted what it named LeSee, an electric concept car. It was part of EVs being the star of the show, along with SUVs, this week at the Beijing auto show.
Tech and entertainment company LeEco, formerly known as LeTV, is known for its smartphones, televisions, and video streaming. Features of its electric car include back seats that adjust to passengers’ bodies and a steering wheel that disappears in self-driving mode. A production schedule has yet to be released for the LeSee, so it’s still in the concept phase.
China’s biggest search-engine operator, Baidu.com, is working on a self-driving car, which it says will hit the road in five years. Baidu is joining up with several other China-based technology companies, which are being backed by private equity funds. They’re also seeing partnerships with Silicon Valley firms and hired talent who previously worked for other automakers. China’s EV market is being perceived as a smart investment for tech innovation.