Tencent-Backed Company Aims to Launch Smart-Electric Cars Before 2020

 The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2016

Tencent-Backed Company Aims to Launch Smart-Electric Cars Before 2020 - WSJ Safari, Today at 1.01.49 PM

A BMW electric car at a Beijing car show in April; Future Mobility has hired about 50 engineers from car makers including BMW for its smart-electric-vehicle project. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese auto startup Future Mobility seeks eventually to sell several hundred thousand luxury vehicles a year

BEIJING—An auto startup backed by internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. plans to start selling premium electric cars globally by 2020, joining other Chinese car makers in taking aim at an increasingly crowded luxury market.

Four month-old Future Mobility Corp. seeks eventually to sell several hundred thousand fully electric, highly automated, China-built vehicles a year. The company is also backed by Chinese luxury-car dealer Harmony New Energy Auto and Foxconn Technology Group, which assembles iPhones for Apple Inc. Apple has been working on its own autonomous electric car.

Deep-pocketed tech companies have backed a wave of new auto companies in China, where a drive to cut fuel consumption and pioneer the auto industry of the future has encouraged startups. Analysts, citing increasing competition and uncertainty over a subsidy-fueled boom in electric vehicles, question how such ambitions can be turned into reality.

“Our target is to create the first Chinese brand which is premium and internationally successful,” Carsten Breitfeld, chief executive of Future Mobility, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Tuesday. He said the company aims to sell cars in China, Europe and the U.S. and to compete with Audi AGBMW AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, which combine for three quarters of China’s luxury-car market.

The company will soon complete its first round of fundraising, Mr. Breitfeld said.

Last year China’s industrial regulator amended rules to allow nonautomotive companies to invest in the electric-car industry, which Beijing has subsidized to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

Internet giants jumped right in. China’s annual motor show in April showcased smart vehicles powered by software from online-shopping company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and search provider Baidu Inc. Last month, a Baidu executive said that the company plans to mass produce a driverless car within five years.

Tencent, China’s biggest social-network company, has a research team working on technology that can be used in automated cars, according to a person familiar with the matter. For now, its involvement in Future Mobility—beyond its minority stake as a financial investor—is limited, the person said.

Tencent is an investor in another electric-car maker, NextEV Inc., whose other backers include Sequoia Capital.

The companies are poaching talented engineers from global auto and technology giants, and setting up research centers in the West. Future Mobility has hired 50 engineers from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Google.com. Within 12 months it will have about 600 engineers globally, said Mr. Breitfeld, formerly the project manager for BMW’s i8 plug-in sports car.

He said the company will either build its own plant or partner with an existing auto maker to assemble cars. It has research and development units in Munich and Silicon Valley and is building its headquarters in Shenzhen, where Tencent is based.

Some analysts question how quickly such a new company can achieve its aims. “Several hundred thousand premium cars from an unknown brand sounds like a stretch,” said Bill Russo, managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Co. and former head of Chrysler’s North East Asia business. “Building a brand and competing with the likes of the premium car makers is very difficult. And the competition will not stand still.”

Robin Zhu, a senior analyst at U.S. research company Sanford C. Bernstein, noted that demand for electric vehicles in China is minimal except in big cities where they’re exempt from certain restrictions that apply to their gasoline-fueled counterparts.

The number of electric and hybrid cars and buses sold in 2015 was four times that of a year earlier—but at 331,000 vehicles was a small, subsidy-driven tally in a market where total sales exceeded 24 million.

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.

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

Bill Russo Hosts “Building a Disruption-Ready Organization” Event

Shanghai, China, March 31, 2016

Building a Disruption-Ready Organization

2016 Russell Reynolds Associates Auto Show Event

The traditional automotive industry, where technology innovation has primarily been focused on powertrain and safety systems, must now contend with new forms of mobility services that are revolutionizing mobility needs.  The conventional hardware-centric business model is being superseded by an emerging connected, on-demand, and personalized mobility services business model.  Many Russell Reynolds Associates’ clients are top industry players contending intersection of the Automotive and Internet industries where innovations is rapidly shaping the future of mobility.

This event was a collaboration between Russell Reynolds Associates and  Gao Feng Advisory Company (www.gaofengadv.com), a pre-eminent strategy and management consulting firm with roots in China.  Gao Feng has been helping clients solve their toughest business and management issues — issues that arise in the current fast-changing, complicated and ambiguous operating environment. The topic of this session is one of the most challenging issues facing the automotive industry, and China is rapidly becoming the incubator for disruptive business model innovations focused on mobility.  However, most firms are at a loss about where to find the best talent to drive their disruptive ideas on innovation and transformation.

The discussion was focused on the future of mobility in China, and the implications for leaders who must cope with the disruptions in the China market.  The event was held on 31 March 2016 in Shanghai China.  This event series is designed to bring senior executive representatives of the China Automotive industry together to hear from and interact directly with the leaders in disruptive innovation and mobility transformation.

Topics for discussion:

  • Defining the disruption in the China context – What are the disruptive trends in today’s mobility world?
  • Helicopter view of the competitive ecosystem – What is the chaotic landscape look like and how will it evolve?
  • How should incumbents respond? Disrupting or being disrupted? – What are the internal capabilities to build? How to work with local start-ups?
  • China for the world – Will China lead to world’s development and innovation in Connected Mobility?

 

Mr. John Larsen, Director, Smart Mobility, Ford Motor Company Asia Pacific

Dr. Markus Seidel, Vice President, BMW Group Technology Office China

Ms. Christina Xie, Senior Director, Strategy Department, Didi Chuxing

Mr. Jack Cheng, Co-Founder, Executive VP, NextEV

Mr. Kevin Harris, Co-Founder, Russell Reynolds Associates

 

Moderated by:

Mr. Bill Russo, Managing Director and Automotive Practice Leader, Gao Feng Advisory Company

Building a Disruption Ready Organization vF Microsoft PowerPoint, Today at 10.29.32 AM

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