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Ding Lei: LeTV to focus on building a car ecosystem

Ding Lei, vice chairman and executive chairman of LeTV’s Super Electric Ecosystem (SEE) Project (also known as Super Car), talked about the company’s Super Car and industry ecosystem during a media interview on the sidelines of Frankfurt Motor Show on September 15. Ding, former president of SAIC-GM and deputy head of Pudong district government of Shanghai, officially joined LeTV just days earlier. Below are excerpts of the interview based on an article published by Automotive Business Review. – Editor


Q: Will LeTV initially produce high-end or low-end vehicles?

Ding: Both are possible in terms of ecosystem if China relaxes control on vehicle manufacturing qualification. Brand building will be easier if we start from high-end vehicles, but building a brand in the internet era is quite another story. Manufacturing vehicles is not my priority.

LeTV sold more than 1 million mobile phones in three months and TV sales of the company have accounted for one-third of Chinese online TV sales volume although the company had never produced phones and TVs before.

We have flexible strategies. We can make both high-end and low-end vehicles and begin with both mass-produced and custom-built vehicles.

Q: What is the difference between LeTV and other internet companies in terms of vehicle manufacturing?

Ding: LeTV is an internet company which develops both hardware and software. Strictly speaking, Xiaomi is not an internet company as it only produces hardware. Baidu only develops software. LeTV is different from them because it is committed to creating the industry ecosystem.

Vertical integration is LeTV’s key advantage. Our business model is revolved around platform+content+terminal+application.

The internet is more important to an internet-connected car although the car is based on a mechanical product. LeTV is investing in internet-related services accordingly, such as smart charging and intelligent driving.

Making electric vehicles is different from making internet-connected vehicles. We should have a broad mind to accept new business patterns.

Q: Does LeTV have a competitor now or is there another internet company making both hardware and software?

Ding: Not at the moment.

Q: How can LeTV’s ecosystem be profitable?

Ding: We can provide many aftersales services based on the internet, such as refueling, parking, leasing, insurances, TV, broadcast, financial products, etc.

Q: Is receiving vehicle manufacturing qualification LeTV’s priority?

Ding: The manufacturing location is not a fundamental issue. We may first start vehicle production in the U.S.

Q: What is the largest obstacle to LeTV’s car production?

Ding: The largest barrier is electric drive and telematics technologies. We have not achieved breakthroughs in the two areas.

I’m not worried about manufacturing. I think the government will view the industry scientifically. We will accept the government’s advices with an open mind. We aim to revolutionize, not disrupt, the industry.

Q: Why did you join LeTV?

Ding: I considered about propelling the society forward utilizing my experiences in the industry. I would not join LeTV without existing changes in the industry driven by Tesla.

I did similar things during the 23 years when I worked in the industry. I want to come back from a higher starting point. Jia Yueting (LeTV founder and CEO)’s vehicle manufacturing strategy is based on the internet ecosystem. Our cooperation is not only on equities and capital but philosophy. We are committed to making our transportation more environmentally friendly, energy-saving, efficient, intelligent and enjoyable.

Q: How can LeTV make a good mechanical car?

Ding: Making a car is not a mystery. We can build a perfect car. Vehicle integration is the key. For example, different chefs will cook different dishes with the same ingredients.

Engineers are still attaching great importance to mechanical technologies and naturally, they hate to talk about making internet-connected vehicles. We are not afraid of Mercedes-Benz and BMW because we are producing vehicles in a different pattern. We do not have low-efficient vehicle factories. We do not aim to take all market shares of traditional vehicles.

Making good vehicles is not a problem for LeTV as many talents in the industry have said that they want to join my team.

Q: Besides the ecosystem, what is LeTV’s priority?

Ding: We need advanced technologies, including battery, electric motor, electronic controls, telematics, ecological service systems and smart transportation management technologies.

Q: Do you want to build an excellent auto brand?

Ding: We are committed to building an ecosystem, not brand.

Q: Do you think EVs will have promising future without government subsidies?

Ding: Technologies are improving. Battery cost will be gradually reduced as consumption scale expands and companies in the EV sector can survive without government subsidies. I’m very confident about the future of batteries.

Q: What are your responsibilities as leader of LeTV’s Super Car project?

Ding: My work is to explore business opportunities in smart transportation society amid uncertain automotive industry ecosystem. I’m positive that my achievements in the past cannot assure my success in the future, but no matter success or failure I hope it will bring positive impact on the industry.

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