An unlikely new and uexpected challenger to Tesla has appeared in the face of Chinese entertainment and consumer technology company LeEco which unveiled its own self-driven electric car on Wednesday.
The futuristic-looking vehicle dubbed LeSEE was promised to run on its own and to park itself and it appeared to be true as the sedan demonstrated it by the side of the stage at the launch event in Beijing staged by LeEco, the company previously known as Letv.
The current prototype model has a top speed of 130 miles an hour, explained Ding Lei, head of LeEco’s automobile division, called the Super Electric Ecosystem unit.
Without providing technical specifications, Ding said the car will surpass the Model S from leading electric car maker Tesla in “all aspects of performance”.
“We are not just building an electric car, we are building a new way of transportation for the future,” said Jia Yueting, LeEco’s co-founder and chief executive.
At the launch, the Chinese company explained that it was focusing on integrating many of its current businesses – from cloud computing and car hailing to online video streaming – into the self-driving car, in what it described as a complete “ecosystem” for users.
Ding noted when announcing the car that it would be able to recognize, and display to other motorists, the gender of the driver.
Asked about the purpose of this feature later, Ding said: “the ecosystem can recognize the status and skills of the driver to help the driver to drive steadily. For example if the driver is a young female and if she’s a bit nervous, it can help her find the way. Please don’t get us wrong; this is just to differentiate various types of customers to help them drive safely.”
“Our cars’ pricing model will be similar to pricing models for cellphones and tv sets we sell today,” he said. “One day our cars will be free … We are getting there some day.”
Analysts, however, predict that customers won’t be able to purchase the just unveiled Tesla’s competitor anytime soon.
“It takes at least five years for a conventional auto maker to develop a new car,” said Zhou Xin, an analyst from Chinese technology consulting firm iResearch. “LeEco needs to continue to make new announcements to satisfy investors and keep attracting new capital to keep going.”
Nevertheless, LeEco founder also noted that hopes when the driverless vehicle hits the market it will help the country’s auto industry reach the forefront of the global auto sector.
“When everyone is questioning us over our ability to develop a car like this and is laughing at us, we are still able to be here and show you this car … I am so emotional,” Jia said at a LeEco launch event for several products in Beijing on Wednesday.
LeEco’s electric vehicle unit and other related startups in China proliferated after the government, seeking ways to fuel a more determined switch to electricity as the ultimate alternative to petrol, liberalized and opened its automotive industry to allow deep-pocketed tech firms to invest as long as they dabble in electric cars.