Startup WM Motor Prepares to Take On Tesla In China’s Mass EV Market

Chinese electric car startup WM Motor wants to take on Tesla, but more on the affordable Model 3 side.

The company is aiming to become a provider of smart, connected mobility services in China’s fast-growing cities. It differs from Tesla and other start-ups in this space in that the three EVs it aims to launch in the next couple years are not shooting for the upscale price range.

According to a Reuters report from Shanghai, WM Motor already has 900 employees, and a $15 million monthly payroll. But unlike other aspirants such as LeSee, NextEV, Future Mobility and Qiantu Motor, its funding is from Chinese investors, not major Internet groups, and the whole operation is the vision of one man.

Freeman Shen founded WM Motor two years ago after quitting Chinese automaker Geely to launch the new company. The Shanghai-based company’s funding amounts to “billions of yuan,” according to Shen, but he declined to say who has invested in WM Motor.

Shen’s vision is based on creating a mass-market all-electric, more affordable car, similar to the Model 3. He thinks the typical residents of China’s big cities will be interested in purchasing more affordable EVs.

It’s going to take a while – Shen thinks his company has about five years to firmly establish the WM Motor brand and its electric cars in the Chinese market. But the company is planning on launching three models by 2018. He’s counting on government incentives and supportive EV policies in the company’s business model.

His strategy is also built around offering smart, connected battery cars. The days of traditional automakers are over, according to Shen, who sees WM Motor more as a service company.

“I don’t think traditional car companies are doing well selling cars, especially with their customer experience,” Shen said. “With smart, connected cars, I believe I can change that.”

He brings international automotive experience to the table. Shen, 46, has an engineering Masters degree from University of California at Los Angeles. He put in two decades working in both the U.S. and China for BorgWarner, Fiat, and Geely. As for support services, Shen is tapping into a German company tech team that he acquired for battery, motor control, and other vehicle systems.

SEE ALSO: Model 3 Orders in China Make It Tesla’s Second-Largest Market

Advocates of smart mobility services, including Shen, see connected EVs changing the auto industry. Today’s cars are often sitting parked most of the time, and can be replaced by smart cars that can be leased or part of a city’s carsharing vehicles.

The startup automaker plans on building an assembly plant, most likely in the Zhejiang province in eastern China. WM Motor will be nearly doubling its workforce to around 600 this year in China and Germany.

The first WM Motor model will be taking on the $35,000 Tesla Model 3. After launching in 2018, Shen says the production volume will climb to 100,000 cars per year within three-to-four years of the launch. The sticker price will be around the Model 3’s price, or cheaper, he said.

China will be the market for the WM Motors electric cars at first, but Shen says he’s also exploring the idea of entering the U.S. market later on.