BEIJING – Ding Lei, head of the LeAuto division at Chinese Internet-content company LeEco, which has created the LeSee concept electric vehicle, was the headline speaker at LeSEE’s press conference at Auto China in Beijing a few weeks ago. A few hours later, he spoke at a press conference held by Faraday Future, a Southern California manufacturer that is producing a luxury EV.
“They are our partners,” he tells WardsAuto when asked about Faraday Future’s relationship to LeSEE. “We cooperate on engineering, marketing and Internet connectivity.”
The two are much closer than partners, however. They will share the same platform to create EVs in two different segments, a top executive at both companies says.
“Actually, we are the same company,” says the executive, handing over two name cards, one for Faraday Future and one for LeTV, the former English name of LeEco.
The companies will share the variable-platform architecture developed by Faraday Future, he says, but likely use it for two different EV brands, one for the mass market and one for the luxury segment.
Jia Yueting, the Chinese Internet billionaire who is funding both companies, has bitten off a lot with his ambitious plans. Neither Faraday Future nor LeSEE offers a launch date for their EVs. Jia’s company in China, Le Holdings, already produces mobile phones and TVs as delivery devices for LeEco’s Internet content. Jia has said cars are just another content delivery device. LeEco, often called China’s Netflix, even has a subsidiary, Le Vision Pictures based in Beijing and Los Angeles that will produce movies and TV series.
Meanwhile, LeSEE, its connected-car division, is working with Aston Martin to produce first a gasoline-powered car equipped with LeEco’s Internet of Vehicles system and headset, then an Aston Martin-badged connected EV.
“We look forward to a long and happy collaboration with LeEco,” Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin, says at the LeEco press conference in Beijing.
Not Playing the China Card
LeEco never has made any secret of its Chinese roots. On the other hand, Faraday Future, based in Gardena, CA, does all it can to be seen as anything but a Chinese company.
“We are based in California but we are a global company,” Jason Wallace, Faraday Future’s chief China representative, says at the press conference, adding, “China and the U.S. are the most important markets to us.ˮ
An executive from VDL Nedcar, a contract car assembler based in the Netherlands, also was at the LeSEE press conference. He says Faraday Future executives have visited his company several times.
“Faraday Future wants a completely new electric vehicle engineered in the U.S. They don’t want a China connection,” the NedCar executive says.
Why not? Faraday Future doesn’t want to be seen as a Chinese company because there is a lot of skepticism in the U.S. toward Chinese automakers, says Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
Chinese companies have been saying they will bring a vehicle to the U.S. market for more than a decade, he says, starting with the appearance of China’s Geely at the Detroit auto show in 2006. More recently, there have been well-publicized failures such as Coda Automotive.
Now a handful of Chinese-invested companies, which besides Faraday Future includes NextEV, Karma and Atieva, have established beachheads in California and say they will bring high-tech EVs to market.
“The Chinese companies love to make a lot of noise,” says Brauer. “They like to show to lot of flash and make a lot of claims. It is sort like the boy crying wolf to me.”
To be sure, LeEco and Faraday Future don’t deny they are connected. LeEco is Faraday Future’s content provider and strategic partner, says Robert Filipovic, Faraday Future’s head of product strategy.
“There is no more important alliance than the one we have with LeEco,” he says. “We will work together when it makes sense.”