Originally published on Gas2.
By Steve Hanley
LeTV is developing an electric car to “take on Tesla.” Dubbed Le Supercar, it was partially revealed to the public for the first time this week. If you live outside of China, you’ve probably never heard of LeTV, which is to China what Netflix is to the rest of the world. It is the #1 streaming service in the country and has started producing its own shows, movies, and sports programs.
But LeTV’s billionaire founder and CEO, Jia Yueting, has ambitions that far exceed simply ruling digital entertainment. He has created a television that became China’s top-selling smart TV and a phone that sold 200,000 units in the first few seconds of release. In early 2014, he set his sights on Tesla, announcing that LeTV will release an electric car of its own. Earlier this year, he even cashed in $1.2 billion of his own shares, then loaned the cash back to LeTV, presumably to help fund the project. The company has released the first concept sketches of its upcoming electric vehicle, which is called LeTV Le Supercar. In Mandarin, “Le” means “happy”—this is not a knock-off of Renault’s low-budget Le Car from the 1970s. Instead, it is aimed squarely at the luxury market. While the company has released only drawings, Fast Company says the design language itself is final. The car will debut at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show with production scheduled for early 2018.
The Le Supercar project is led by Tony Nie, a former founding member of the Lotus China team. He was the first person hired for the project in 2014 and has spent the last year hiring 600 people to develop the car—400 in China, and 200 in the US. Reportedly, some of the team members once worked for Tesla, BMW, and GM.
“Those people, they bring very good experience. They’ve done this before,” Nie says. “They know how to avoid a mistake. They’ve learned the lessons already, so they can help us to move faster, and do something really different.”
Lie has declined to provide more details about the vehicle, but says the LeTV Le Supercar will feature its own powertrain that LeTV is developing in-house—including a motor, inverter, and battery technology. He says it will feature a minimum of mechanical components, thanks largely to the car’s operating system, which will serve as the car’s primary interface. It’s a revision on the Android-based OS that LeTV has been using on its televisions and phones—products that Nie sees not as discrete electronics but as portals to LeTV’s core product: Content.
“We believe when you put the big screen and the service with the apps into the electric vehicle, you can use this as a portal as well, and reach the customer,” Nie says. “That’s a main reason we want to develop this electric vehicle.” In other words, Le Supercar will be a television on wheels. Maybe that makes sense. Since future cars will do more and more of the driving themselves, occupants will have more time to watch programming on their vehicles’s digital display screens—programming supplied by LeTV, of course.
It is hard to believe that any company—even Silicon Valley giants like Apple—can produce a competitive, electric car so quickly when major automakers have failed to equal Tesla. “If we talked about this four to five years ago, I’d have no confidence to do this,” Nie admits. “But [as of] this year and last year, I think the technology is getting mature. And more companies are getting into this area. So I think it’s time to join this industry to develop something different.”
How different? That remains to be seen.
Photo Credits: LeTV