Faraday Future Faces Crucial Test With New Electric Car

The Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2017

Electric carmaker Faraday Futures demonstrated its prototype all-electric FF 91 vehicle at CES 2017 on Tuesday. The four-door car can go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 2.39 seconds, executives say.

LAS VEGAS—Time is running out for Faraday Future’s ambitious plan to crack the U.S. auto industry and take on Tesla Motors Inc.

The startup faced a critical test here on Tuesday when it revealed an all-electric car that it says will be ready for production in 2018 and will cast aside doubts about its future.

Faraday made a splash at the CES technology conference last year with futuristic car designs and plans to build a $1 billion factory in Nevada. The buzz soon turned to skepticism amid a steady drip of news about suppliers demanding payments, Faraday executives leaving and its main investor bleeding cash.

At a media event on Tuesday ahead of this week’s CES 2017 conference, the Los Angeles-area company showed a four-door, sports-utility-like vehicle called the FF 91 that executives claim can go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 2.39 seconds, faster than the Tesla Model S.

Faraday’s car has cushy back seats that can recline like a La-Z-Boy chair and an interior cabin loaded with large video screens that can be updated with next-generation gadgets. Faraday hasn’t disclosed a starting price.

“I’m hoping…to convince people that we’re real,” said Nick Sampson, Faraday’s senior vice president of engineering and research and development. “We are doing a real product, it’s not just a vaporware, Batmobile to create attention.”

Mr. Sampson said the company plans to roll out the FF 91 in 2018, but he wouldn’t discuss Faraday’s financial status.

That question arose in November when Faraday’s main investor, Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting, disclosed a cash crunch at LeEco Holdings. Mr. Jia, founder of LeEco, told employees the company had expanded too quickly as part of a multibillion-dollar spending spree to build a conglomerate ranging from smartphones to electric cars and a film studio.

LeEco’s precarious cash situation has had “some impact” on Faraday, Mr. Sampson said, but he stressed the companies are separately run.

In late December, Mr. Sampson spent more than three hours showing reporters around the company’s headquarters, a former Nissan Motors Co. facility in Gardena, Calif. The former Tesla executive led a tour through various departments, including aerodynamics, body engineering and manufacturing, as many executives presented using large LeEco TVs and talked optimistically about being ready to begin production.

Notably absent was Marco Mattiacci, global chief brand and commercial officer, whose name was printed on the agenda. He quit a few days later, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mattiacci formerly headed Ferrari in North America and was one of eight senior executives who left in the past year, according to one of the people.

Some of Faraday’s Western executives, hired from high-profile auto makers, have disagreed with their Chinese counterparts over the direction of Faraday, according to people familiar with the matter.

Underscoring how important Faraday views the CES reveal, a giant TV screen in the company’s lobby near the boardroom displays a clock counting down the hours until the event. “While getting a PR event right would be a step in the right direction, it’s still not clear whether they can raise the funds needed to finish the journey,” Bill Russo, an automotive consultant for Gao Feng Advisory Co. in Shanghai, said.

Faraday joins a crowded field of startups that aim to follow the same path as Tesla. Silicon Valley automotive startup Lucid Motors last month revealed the production version of its electric sedan that will cost about $160,000 for early versions, with the expected starting price to drop to around $65,000.

The sales pitch for the Lucid car is similar to Faraday’s: promises of sports-car-like abilities, luxurious interiors and eventual self-driving capabilities. The companies also share Mr. Jia as an investor, though he isn’t a majority shareholder in Lucid.

During the recent Faraday tour, an executive demonstrated the car’s self-parking feature. While reporters were allowed rides in prototypes to demonstrate acceleration and handling, they weren’t given up-close demonstrations of the autonomous feature.

Instead, they watched from across the parking lot as the vehicle’s operator kept his left hand hanging out the window as the car approached an open spot and backed into it. Asked if reporters could see up-close how it worked, a spokesman said, “Maybe later.”

At the event Tuesday, after showing a video of the self-parking, Mr. Jia surprised the audience by popping out of the car after driving on stage.

He pushed a button to activate the self-parking feature. But it didn’t work.

“It’s a little bit lazy tonight,” Mr. Sampson said.

Moments later they tried it again with success. The company then said it will begin taking $5,000 deposits.

Write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

Click here to read this article at wsj.com

When Big Apple Meets Little Orange

Forbes Asia, May 23, 2016

Click here to read the full article at Forbes.com

by Bill Russo, Edward Tse and Alan Chan

Apple CEO Tim Cook with Didi Chuxing President Jean Liu Photo Courtesy of Didi Chuxing
Apple CEO Tim Cook with Didi Chuxing President Jean Liu
Photo Courtesy of Didi Chuxing

On May 13, Apple announced a USD 1 billion investment in China’s leading on-demand mobility (ODM) service, Didi Chuxing (Didi).  Didi’s legal name in Chinese means “little orange”, and an internal announcement made to Didi’s employees literally welcomed the apple to the orange family.

To understand the logic of this investment, it is important to first understand the popularity and explosive growth of such services in China – along with the role that Didi plays inside the expanding ecosystems of its largest investors, Tencent and Alibaba.

Originating from separate taxi-hailing services in 2012, Didi is now a one-stop mobility solutions provider that provides a variety of services including taxi-hailing, private-car hailing, on-demand bus, peer-to-peer ride-sharing, designated driver and test driving.  Didi currently has 14 million registered drivers, completing over 11 million rides per day in over 400 cities across China.  With over 87 percent share of the Chinese private car-hailing market, Didi is far larger than all the other ODM service providers in China, including Uber.

As a global leader in smart connected device technology, Apple has been exploring opportunities to expand the reach of its iOS ecosystem.  It is an “open secret” that Apple is working on its own vehicle program, code-named Project Titan, investing billions in R&D and poaching talent from leading automakers including Tesla, General Motors and Ford.  As a manufacturer of intelligent devices, Apple is a “serial disruptor” of industries ranging from media to telecommunications, and views smart transportation as a key target.

The logic of this collaboration is quite evident: the premier global smart device maker (Apple) has set its sights on disrupting transportation in partnership with the dominant mobility services platform (Didi) in the world’s largest car market with the largest number of mobile internet users.   Through this partnership, Apple and Didi will have the opportunity to shape the connected mobility ecosystem for China as well as the rest of the world.

A Collaboration Model for Connected Mobility Innovation

The traditional owner-centric business model of the car industry is being disrupted by shared ODM services.  As a result, we have witnessed the rapid emergence of a user-centric business model served by mobility services platforms dominated by Uber and Didi.  Apple’s investment in Didi will ensure that they will be able to access China’s dynamic internet and mobility ecosystem.

Apple gains a Chinese partner not only with a strong mobility services brand, but also with a proven market sensing capability and keen understanding of how to address mobility pain points.  Apple can leverage this to launch a car that delivers the perfect connected mobility user experience, and this can be leveraged both inside and outside of China.  Didi will benefit from being affiliated with the world’s premier smart device company, and also gains a major global strategic partner to help penetrate into overseas markets and compete globally with Uber.

While not the primary motivation, Apple’s investment in Didi can also help foster goodwill in China, signaling a willingness on the part of Apple to collaborate with leading Chinese companies.  The importance of maintaining such goodwill was underscored recently when Chinese regulators shut down access to some of Apple’s online media stores, triggering concerns among investors.  In addition, Didi expects to turn a profit next year and eventually list their shares, which could provide Apple with a fast return on their capital investment.

The recent loss of momentum in Apple’s profit growth and share price performance has raised concerns among investors that the Apple may not be able to recover its shine.  The deal with Didi brings hope that Apple can disrupt the auto industry in the world’s largest auto market.

From Connected Mobility to Connected Lifestyle

However, connected mobility is just one segment of the larger “connected lifestyle” opportunity.  The convergence of disruptive technologies such as autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will have the power to transform our everyday lives.  The implications of this go far beyond mobility, which is just one of the spaces where we will be connected through a smart device or platform.

Cars will increasingly become smart, connected, electronic and autonomous – and increasingly accessed through a mobility service.  A logical interpretation of Apple’s strategy is that it views the car as a “third place” after home and office where people are connected to the internet.  Its investment in Didi should be viewed as a strategic opportunity for Apple to capture a larger share of a mobility user’s time online, thereby generating recurring revenue.  By creating a more personalized mobility solution, Apple also hopes that the users of such a mobility service would eventually prefer an Apple hardware platform when they are on wheels.

More than just a taxi-hailing service, Didi is a technology-enabled platform. With advanced algorithms to match supply and demand, surge pricing and real-time route optimization, Didi is efficiently moving people and things by maximizing the utilization rate of vehicles.  More importantly, with big data and machine learning capabilities, Didi’s competitive advantages are constantly evolving and being reinforced.

Like WeChat and Alipay, Didi has emerged as one of the few “Super Apps” holding a vital part of Chinese consumers’ daily connected lifestyle.  These Super Apps typically start by addressing a major pain point and eventually evolve into ecosystems of connected lifestyle services for potentially billions of users.  They possess valuable “big data” on a user’s mobility patterns that are of high commercial value.

“Apple + Didi” vs. “LeEco + Yidao”

In fact, the “Apple + Didi” model is already being experimented by LeEco, a leading Chinese internet media company founded (as LeTV) in 2004.  Last year, LeEco purchased a 70 percent stake in another Chinese car-hailing app Yidao Yongche.  LeEco is also the principal investor in Faraday Future, a U.S.-based electric vehicle startup that is featuring a “subscription model” where users can enjoy the flexibility and convenience of mobility on-demand without having to own the vehicle.  Apple’s recent monthly paid iPhone subscription program indicates that they may already be considering such a business model for other smart devices.

The usage-based model effectively eliminates the problem of up-selling features to individual owners by allowing the businesses that generate revenue from the device to cover the cost for adding the technology.

LeEco’s vision is to cover all aspects of consumer’s connected lifestyle by establishing an extensive business portfolio with mobile internet, e-commerce, sports, internet finance, entertainment and others.  It is rapidly building a vertically-integrated ecosystem comprised of “Content, Devices, Platforms and Applications” offering premium user experience across multiple screens (i.e. mobile, tablet, computer, cinema, TV and cars).

Disrupt or Be Disrupted

Going forward, we expect to see increasing levels of co-opetition, and more cross-border, cross-industry collaborations:

Co-opetition: Google is an early investor in Uber while Baidu is a strategic investor in Uber China.  Alibaba is a major investor in Didi.  Meanwhile, Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba’s affiliate that runs Alipay and other financial services, has partnered with Uber to enable Alipay globally.  Apple’s deal with Didi could potentially challenge both Uber and Google.  In addition, Didi is a member of an “anti-Uber alliance” including Lyft in the U.S., Grab (formerly GrabTaxi) in Southeast Asia, and Ola in India.  With Didi’s aspiration to become a global company, Apple could eventually extend strategic partnerships to other companies in the alliance as well.

Cross-border: China (Beijing) and U.S. (Silicon Valley) will be the leading innovation hubs for connected mobility and beyond.  The Chinese government is keen to promote electric vehicles adoption and digital transformation to improve urban mobility and address environmental issues.  China could leapfrog and become the epicenter for connected mobility innovation on a global scale, with its massive population serving as a fertile ground for technology commercialization, as well as connected lifestyle.  Permutations and combinations of cross-border alliances for connected lifestyle will create tremendous value for Chinese internet users as they trade-up for better products and services.

Cross-industry: The boundary between automotive and internet technology industries will become increasingly blurred.  General Motors, as one of the most forward-looking incumbents, has formed a strategic partnership with Lyft, acquired self-driving start-up Cruise Automation and established a new business division named Maven to experiment with new mobility services. Other automakers are also catching up by piloting ODM services, including Daimler’s Car2Go, Ford’s Go!Drive and Ford Pass, BMW’s DriveNow, and Audi On-Demand.  We have already seen emerging “disruption clusters” in China, including (1) LeEco, Faraday Future, Aston Martin and Yidao Yongche, (2) Future Mobility, Tencent and Foxconn, (3) NextEV, Tencent and JD.com, and (4) Alibaba and SAIC.

A Partnership to Reimagine Mobility

China is at the epicenter of a disruptive wave of automotive innovation and beyond.  The mobility experience is being redefined with innovative usage-based business models.  Incumbents and new players must re-evaluate their connected mobility strategies with a new lens for delivering the perfect connected mobility experience.  Past success in the old automotive game is not a guarantee for future success.  In fact, one would surmise that past legacy could often become a barrier for swift and innovative moves going forward.  It is time for the leading companies from China and Silicon Valley to join forces to re-imagine mobility and the marriage between Apple and Didi could offer the promise of doing just that.

How China Is Driving A Connected Mobility Revolution

Forbes Asia, May 8, 2016

Click here to read this article at Forbes.com

By Bill Russo

For the early part of the 21st century, China has been the growth engine of the global automotive industry. Despite a recent slowdown, China will surpass 25 million units in annual car sales in 2016 and has become the battleground for dominance of the global auto industry.

Several driving forces, which are particularly evident China, are disrupting the status quo of the automotive industry:

  • The unique context of China’s urban transportation challenge, the high rate of adoption of mobile device connectivity, combined with the rapid and aggressive introduction of alternative mobility solutions.
  • Disruptive new entrants into the mobility solutions competitive landscape, who draw insights about customers based on their online behaviors and mobility habits in order to offer a diverse pool of new revenue-generating solutions.

The confluence of these forces are changing the landscape of how mobility needs can be served in a rather fundamental way, touching off a wave of experimentation among both traditional automotive and new mobility solutions providers.

The Origins of Disruption

Disruptive business models typically originate from outside the core set of industry players.  Traditional Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) business models rely on selling products through an established business-to-consumer (B2C) channel, often through an intermediary sales partner that is either owned or franchised to represent the OEM brands in the marketplace.  Consumers pay to own the asset outright.

The entry point for disruption is through the “pay-per-use” service-based business model.  While this channel has existed for some time in the form of services managed through centralized professionally managed fleets (rental car companies, taxi and chauffeur services), digitally disruptive companies such as Uber, and China’s Yidao Yongche and Didi-Chuxing (created from a merger between rival mobility services from Alibaba and Tencent) have gained rapid and widespread market acceptance.

Once an entry point is established, these services-centric Information and Communications Technology (ICT) disruptors are able to leverage their big data and analytics capabilities to gain insight on consumers and their mobility patterns and behaviors. Essentially, these disruptors view connected mobility services as a natural extension of their ecosystem platform and are viewing the traditional services and perhaps even the OEM hardware business as a way of expanding their ecosystem.  Serving the “Mobility on Demand” market is merely the point of entry for an entire suite of Internet-based mobile connectivity services which may include navigation, route planning, e-commerce, vehicle repair and maintenance, usage based insurance, and other very lucrative “owner services” which are very important to today’s OEM business.

ICT disruptors are leveraging connected mobility services as a means to disintermediate the value chain of the automotive industry and capture a profitable services ecosystem.  OEMs are at risk of their business model being relegated to a high-risk, asset-intensive, commoditized, business-to-business (B2B) channel for delivering hardware to the profitable ecosystem of the mobility services providers.

Reimagining Personalized Mobility

The motivation for many ICT disruptors to invest and compete in this market is to unlock the services revenue that encircles each user.  It is not the mobility service itself that justifies the investment, but rather all the things that we (and our cars) do when mobile.  Making such experiences feel more and more “personalized” to our individual needs and lifestyles, which become apparent based on our mobility habits, will ensure the loyalty of the user to the service provider’s ecosystem.

ICT disruptors are leveraging their core value propositions to deliver a more personalized mobility solution.  These disruptors may not see the car industry as their destination, but are rather “travelling through mobility”.  They view mobility services as a channel for enrollment of users into their broader ecosystem-based platform offering a range of other services.  Chinese ICT disruptors aiming at this “personalized mobility” solutions space include LeEco, Future Mobility, and NextEV.

The table below offers a glimpse of how major Chinese players aim to leverage their core while expanding to and beyond mobility as a service.  Beyond manufacturing smart, connected, electric vehicles or building technology-enabled infotainment systems and mobility services, these visionary companies are reinventing the mobility experience as a whole.  Moreover, they are reimagining mobility as a transaction between a user and an ecosystem services provider, which stands in stark contrast with the traditional model of a transaction between an owner and a manufacturer.

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It is important to keep in mind that as cars become mobility service platforms, the technology on board will become more sophisticated and tailored to the individual end-user’s needs.  ICT disruptors may in fact decide to contract out the actual production of vehicles to an ecosystem partner, with an end-game of earning recurring revenue by providing car owners with data products and Internet services.  While some tech companies may profit from selling hardware, the main focus is on the services that flow through the hardware.

Disruptions typically originate from outside the traditional industry players, which is clearly illustrated in this case.  We are approaching an inflection point where the deployment of personalized mobility solutions will expand exponentially and thereby alter the competitive landscape and business models of several adjacent industries.

Conclusion

Over the past few years we have witnessed how ICT disruptors have pioneered new business models and are in the process reimagining mobility as a service.  The emergence of Chinese disruptive mobility solutions players such as Didi Chuxing and LeEco, with their innovative ecosystem-based strategic approach, offers clear evidence that something new is happening.  This, coupled with the Chinese government’s determination to push new-energy vehicles and build a sustainable transportation infrastructure, demonstrates the potential for China to become the major breeding ground for automotive innovation[1].

Tech disruptors including Apple AAPL +0.12%Google GOOGL +0.50%, LeEco, NextEV, and others may be garnering the most attention, but as we have observed, they are typically “travelling through mobility” as a means to enroll users into their broader service ecosystems.  On the opposite flank, traditional OEMs, who will not easily cede their over 100-year dominance in the auto industry, are pivoting into mobility services.

New players will inevitably join this emerging landscape of competition.  Alliances are also being formed among new and traditional players seeking to access complementary strengths and seize a competitive advantage.

The battle will likely be won by those who understand the true potential of connected mobility services and thereby deliver value to the user in the most personalized, convenient, comfortable, and cost-effective manner.  It is a battle where profits will be won by offering differentiated mobility-related services through a hardware platform that is most suited to the lifestyle of its end user.

Success will accrue to those companies that are best able to reimagine mobility in the context of a place like China:  where mobility needs are uniquely challenging, where innovative mobility experiments are being driven by entrepreneurial activity, and where dreams of exponential business growth become reality.

Follow me on twitter @billrusso

[1] China Drives the Future of Automotive Innovation, Gao Feng Viewpoint, by Bill Russo and Aloke Palsikar, October 2015

 

I am the Managing Director and the Automotive Practice leader at Gao Feng Advisory Company based in Shanghai.  With 15 years as an automotive executive, including over 11 years of experience in China and Asia, I have had the pleasure of working with multi-national and local Chinese firms in the formulation and implementation of their global market and product strategies. I was previously the Vice President of Chrysler North East Asia, responsible for the business operations for the Greater China and South Korea markets. In addition, I have 12 years of experience in the electronics and IT industry, having worked at IBM Corporation and Harman International.

The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Chinese firms accelerate in race toward driverless future

AFP Newswires, April 23, 2016

 

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Chinese Internet giant LeECO Holdings Ltd unveils its internet electric battery driverless concept car ‘LeSEE’,  during a launch event in Beijing, on April 20, 2016

 

Beijing: Chinese manufacturers and internet giants are in hot pursuit of their US counterparts in the race to design driverless cars, but the route to market is still littered with potholes.

While Google has been working on autonomous vehicles for at least six years, with the likes of BMW, Volvo and Toyota in its wake, more recently Chinese businesses have entered the race, from internet search giant Baidu to manufacturer Changan.

Last week, ahead of the Beijing Auto Show opening on Monday, two self-driving Changan cars made a mountainous 2,000 kilometre (1,200 mile) journey from Chongqing in the southwest to the capital in the country’s first long-distance autonomous vehicle test.

Another Chinese internet giant, LeECO, is also venturing into autonomous technologies, unveiling Wednesday in Beijing an electric car that can park itself and be summoned to its owner’s location via smartphone.

And late last year Baidu tested China’s first locally designed driverless vehicle, a modified BMW, with a 30 kilometre ride through the streets of Beijing.

Despite China’s relatively late entry to the field, analysts believe the country could become a key market for driverless vehicles thanks to a more favourable regulatory and consumer environment.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) forecasts that global sales of driverless cars will reach 12 million by 2035, with more than a quarter sold in China.

Vehicles which automatically adjust their routes in response to real-time traffic information could solve chronic gridlock in China’s major cities, BCG’s Xavier Mosquet told AFP.

“If they believe this would ease traffic, Chinese authorities will do all they can to promote the development of this technology and then its use,” he said.

Robot taxis

Public concerns over the safety of driverless cars are far lower than elsewhere, according to a survey by Roland Berger consultants in 2015, which found 96 per cent of Chinese would consider an autonomous vehicle for almost all everyday driving, compared with 58 per cent of Americans and Germans.

In a country notorious for accidents, the promise of better safety through autonomous technologies could also be appealing.

The ultimate prize, say analysts, will be when mass transport firms such as taxi-hailing giant Uber, or its Chinese rival Didi, can deploy huge fleets of robot taxis.

“The real payoff for truly driverless technology will come when cars on the road are no longer owned by people, but are owned by fleet management services,” said Bill Russo, managing director of the consultancy firm Gao Feng.

“That’s where you want to think about taking the driver out of the equation. Mobility on demand is hugely popular here.”

In the Roland Berger survey, 51 per cent of Chinese car owners said they would prefer to use robot taxis rather than buy a new vehicle themselves, compared with 26 per cent of Americans.

With a ready market, China may soon become the top location for companies to refine driverless technology.

Swedish manufacturer Volvo, owned by China’s Geely since 2010, this month announced plans to test drive up to 100 of its vehicles on Chinese roads this year.

Changan, a partner of Ford, is set to roll out commercial autonomous vehicles for motorways from 2018, while mass production of driverless city cars is projected to begin in 2025.

‘Does the car choose?’

Baidu, meanwhile, says it will launch self-driving buses by 2018, which will operate on fixed routes in select cities in China.

Like Google, the internet giant already owns detailed road maps and has experience in electronic security, and a company spokeswoman told AFP it had had “very positive feedback” from the government.

But analysts are more cautious, predicting slow-moving autonomous vehicles will not appear in towns until at least 2020.

Production costs were still too high to make a robot taxi fleet viable, BCG’s Mosquet said.

“There are still many questions to be resolved” before fully autonomous vehicles can be put into public use, said Jeremy Carlson, a senior analyst for IHS.

He pointed to “chaotic traffic situations” on roads shared with cyclists and pedestrians, and less-than-adequate infrastructure.

Technology will be the first to see solutions, he said, but that still left regulation and issues around liability and insurance to be addressed.

For some, there are moral dilemmas as well.

“If you have someone jumping out in front of an autonomous car, does the car have to choose between killing that person, or swerving and crashing and killing the passenger?” asked Robin Zhu, senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.

“If your car could choose to kill you, would you get in it?”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-04-chinese-firms-driverless-future.html#jCp

The Race to Produce China’s Tesla

Bloomberg News, April 22, 2016

 
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William Li isn’t your typical, boundlessly optimistic Chinese tech entrepreneur. Yes, the founder of startup NextEV Inc. has big plans to disrupt China’s electric car market, the financial backing of venture capital powerhouses Sequoia Capital and Hillhouse Capital and considers Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk an inspiration.

That said, he rates his chance of succeeding in China’s fast-moving car market at a whopping 5 percent. He also thinks most of the new business models for electric cars being bandied about by tech companies will end up in the junk yard.

“There’s an exponential gulf between creating a concept car and mass production, and then to actually sell them,” Li said. “Tesla has broken a lot of new ground and inspired a raft of Internet companies to follow, but most have no idea what they’re facing.”

Such hard-nosed realism is probably wise. As global auto executives gather for the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, a torrent of money is pouring into the nation’s alternative energy vehicle market, which includes electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell cars. In a country with some of the worst urban air pollution on the planet and a rapidly urbanizing populace, the market’s upside potential seems big to conventional car companies and tech startups jumping in.

The Chinese government is promoting what it considers a strategic industry with big subsidies for companies and consumers. It wants new energy vehicle sales to top 3 million units a year by 2025, versus 330,000 in 2015. Premier Li Keqiang in February urged local government and industry players to speed up construction of charging facilities to accommodate 5 million electric vehicles by 2020.

Right now, the electric car business is dominated by BYD Co., a Shenzhen-based automaker, 9-percent owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., that has a 18 percent share of China’s new energy vehicle market. At the Beijing show, BYD will be touting its new entry-level sports-utility vehicle called The Yuan, as in the 13th-century Chinese dynasty, that starts from 209,800 yuan ($32,368) for the hybrid version.

Tesla is a player, too, in China, where it sells its Model S and Model X, though the Palo Alto, California-based electric carmaker would like to be a far bigger one. For the first three quarters of 2015, the company sold 3,025 vehicles in China, which compares to 11,477 units of delivery by BYD. The Chinese company, also sells its electrics in U.S., Germany and Japan and surpassed Tesla in May to become the world’s biggest maker of new energy vehicles last year.

The success of Tesla in the U.S. and the development of driver-less car technologies by Apple and Google are also attracting all manner of technology companies into the Chinese auto market, the world’s biggest. Some envision cars developing into “mobility service platforms,” in which passengers receive data and services in addition to being moved from point A to B.

That could play to the strengths of technology companies and the huge and growing Chinese auto market could be the perfect laboratory in which to experiment with new services and business models, according to Bill Russo, managing director at Shanghai-based auto consultant Gao Feng Advisory.

Russo compares today’s autos to the mobile phones of a decade ago, when apps started to gain in popularity. “As cars become mobility service platforms, the technology on board will become more sophisticated,” he says. Technology companies could contract out auto production to make vehicles, but then earn recurring revenue by providing car owners with data products and Internet services. “Apple makes money not just on the device, but on all the services that flow through it,” he said.

It’s definitely a vision in search of details, but plenty of technology companies are jumping into the fray. Electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology, Internet service portal Tencent and China Harmony New Energy Auto have set up a joint venture to build alternative energy cars. The partnership is designed to leverage different strengths: Foxconn’s component supply chain, Tencent’s infotainment and telematics systems that could improve vehicle’s connectivity and Harmony Auto’s after-sales network for electric vehicles. In January, Daniel Kirchert, head of Infiniti in China, joined the alliance.

Chinese tech billionaire Jia Yueting also has automotive ambitions. The chairman and founder of Le Holdings Co., which makes Web-enabled televisions and smartphones and offers cloud and e-commerce services, is a major investor in Los Angeles-based Faraday Future, which is building a 900-acre factory near Las Vegas, Nevada. LeEco, which has developed its own electric vehicles, is preparing to apply for a production license in China and also plans to manufacture its cars overseas.

Given all the new entrants, it is easy to understand why NextEV founder Li is wary of the competition, even with financial backers like Sequoia. Li has hired former Cisco Systems Inc. Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior to lead development and U.S. operations and has inked a deal to outsource production to Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co.

“They’re realistic, they’re seasoned, smart people with a lot of money and they’re unafraid of the challenge,” Michael Dunne, head of strategy and investment advisory firm Dunne Automotive Ltd., said of NextEV. “In fact, they seem to be embracing it.”

Li’s early life didn’t fit the profile of a tech entrepreneur. He spent his early years herding cattle in a mountain village in Anhui province, where he grew up with his grandparents. A talented student, he left the rural China to attend the prestigious Peking University, where he earned a degree in social sciences while supporting himself with part-time work like selling office supplies to Apple Inc.

Before starting NextEV, Li co-founded and built Bitauto Holdings Ltd. into the country’s biggest provider of online car pricing data for dealers. The company went public in New York in 2010. Li and Bitauto have invested in more than 40 companies in China including used-car business, financing services and car-sharing platform such as Didapinche.

Li says NextEV is an opportunity to rethink the electric car as not just a transportation vehicle but as a digital platform.

“Traditional auto manufacturers treat the car as 95 percent transportation tool,” Li said. “Tesla’s cars have perhaps 20 percent to 30 percent content that are not related to transportation,” he said referring to such things as mobile connectivity and touchscreens that access car maintenance services.  “My aim is to boost that to more than 50 percent.”

NextEV has produced an electric Formula E series racer, but hasn’t yet disclosed its plans for launching an electric car aimed at the consumer market. Meantime, the race is engaged by a gaggle of tech companies to prove they can be players in Chinese autos.

Click here to read the article at www.bloomberg.com

James Bond’s Favorite Car Goes Electric

NBC News, February 18, 2016

Aston Martin is going electric.

The very British car manufacturer — best known for its association with that other perfectly proportioned British export, James Bond — just inked a deal with China’s LeEco to make an electric version of the luxury car by 2018.

skyfall-daniel-craig-as-james-bond-with-aston-martin-db5_fc9fd22f936a7024fabe1d04d482ef62.nbcnews-ux-600-480

Aston Martin made the announcement Thursday at a press conference in Frankfurt, adding that the cars would be manufactured at the company’s flagship plant in Gaydon, England.

LeEco, a Beijing-based tech company, said in a statement, “We have been targeting the highest standard in the auto industry in terms of design, R&D and manufacturing of our electric cars.”

China is proving to be a driving force in the creation of electric vehicles, not just providing the parts but also the innovative technology. Analysts predict that “China will be the epicenter for electrification of the auto industry globally,” said Bill Russo of Gao Feng Advisory Co., who estimates that China will invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) on new-energy vehicles by 2020.

The new RapidE car will be based on the Rapide S model, which currently retails at around $200,000. No details were disclosed as to the projected price point for the RapidE. No word either on whether it will include revolving license plates, front-wing machine guns, or an ejector seat.

Reimagining Mobility in the China Context

Gao Feng Insights Report, February 2016

We are pleased to share with you our paper titled: Reimagining Mobility in the China Context. This article builds on the themes from our previous article titled Digital Disruption in China’s Automotive Industry, and offers a perspective at how the traditional value chain of the automotive industry is being fundamentally transformed by a new wave of “digital disruptors”.

Unlike traditional automotive OEMs and suppliers, these digital disruptors are leveraging mobile internet technology to present new and innovative “Connected Mobility” services to users, and in the process challenging the business model of the automotive industry. The century old hardware-centric business model of individual car ownership and product-based segmentation is transforming into a new form which leverages internet technology to deliver a broader range of services to address mobility needs.  Such changes are happening faster in China than in the rest of the world, where the size and scale of the urban population and the sheer numbers of mobile internet users are much greater than other markets.

In such an environment, China’s Internet giants (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) along with mobility disruptors such as LeEco and NextEV are vying to deliver an increasingly connected, electrified, smart and personalized mobility experience.  Coupled with the Chinese government’s regulatory push on new-energy vehicle adoption and sustainable transportation infrastructure, China has demonstrated strong potential to become the breeding ground for the Connected Mobility revolution.   As a result, Automotive OEM and supplier CEOs must learn to reimagine mobility in the China context in order to secure a strong position in this new competitive landscape.

We welcome your comments and feedback on our briefing paper or in general about our firm. We would be glad to meet you in person to share our data and perspectives in a fuller manner. Please let us know if you are interested in meeting and discussing directly how we can help you to operationalize these insights.

Thought leadership is core to what Gao Feng does. We will, from time to time, share with you our latest thinking on business and management, especially as it relates to China and China’s role in the world.

Best Regards,

Bill Russo
Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company
bill.russo@gaofengadv.com

Edward Tse
Chairman and CEO, Gao Feng Advisory Company
edward.tse@gaofengadv.com

Tel: +86 10 5650 0676 (Beijing); +852 2588 3554 (Hong Kong); +86 21 5117 5853 (Shanghai)

Bill Russo to Speak on “Reimagining Mobility in the China Context”

Click here to sign up for the event at Meetup

Date:  March 17, 2016

Location:  naked Hub  3F, 1237 Fuxing Road (corner of South Xiangyang Road), Shanghai (map)

Price:   $25.00 /per person  Refund policy

ADVANCE ONLINE PAYMENTS AT ONLY RMB 150/US$ 25!
Alipay/UnionPay:  https://yoopay.cn/event/Mobility

Meet people from other professions/sectors, share new ideas on how to run your business in a more challenging environment that is Shanghai today.  

For this new entrepreneurs’ event, we have invited Bill Russo, Managing Director of Gao Feng Advisory Company, who will talk about China’s Automotive Industry.

The traditional value chain of the automotive industry is being fundamentally transformed by a new wave of “digital disruptors”. Unlike traditional automotive OEMs and suppliers, these digital disruptors are leveraging mobile internet technology to deliver a broader range of services to address mobility needs. Such changes are happening faster in China than in the rest of the world, and China’s Internet giants (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) along with mobility disruptors such as LeEco and NextEV are vying to deliver an increasingly connected, electrified, smart and personalized mobility experience.  China has demonstrated strong potential to become a breeding ground for Connected Mobility innovation. Automotive OEM and supplier executives CEOs must learn to reimagine mobility in the China context in order to secure a strong position in this new competitive landscape.

About Speaker:  
Bill Russo is the Shanghai-based Managing Director of Gao Feng Advisory Company and Head of the firm’s Automotive Practice.  He has over 30 years of industry experience including 15+ years as an automotive executive, and had been in China since 2004.  In his corporate career, he has worked for IBM, Chrysler and Harman International.  He is a highly sought-after opinion leader on China’s Automotive Industry, with frequent appearances on Bloomberg and China Central Television.

Fee: RMB 150 online in advance – RMB 180 at the door
Includes dinner, unlimited flow of beer and soft drinks.

Reimagining Mobility in the China Context VFF Microsoft PowerPoint, Today at 1.18.39 PM

For a copy of our new paper on this topic please email bill.russo@gaofengadv.com