If there ever was an award for the most unusual car launch of 2016, LeEco’s LeSEE Pro for sure will win the prize. It was supposed to be an event for LeEco to exhibit its new concept car, the LeSEE Pro for the first time in San Francisco. Firstly, the prototype didn’t show up on time due to a “hiccup” during its transport from London, where it was being used for the filming of Transformers 5, to the event. Secondly, a bunch of technical glitches including LeEco main products: TV, smartphone, super bike and a video streaming platform took the stage. You don’t normally see them in a car’s unveiling event, do you?
YT (Yueting) Jia, CEO and founder of LeEco, once said that he hopes the brand’s cars will eventually be free. For him, the car is just hardware like a smart phone. Since the day when Jia made the announcement that he plans to disrupt the automotive industry with his LeSEE super car, skepticism has always been there.
To get the gist of what LeEco is all about, one has to know what kind of company LeEco is and its innovative business model.
The LeEco company
LeEco is a leading Chinese internet media company founded (as LeTV) in 2004, and currently employs 10,000 people worldwide. The company’s original name LeTV literally means “Happy TV.” In line with the company’s new vision to build a vertically-integrated ecosystem comprised of “Content, Devices, Platforms and Applications,” the company last year re-named itself LeEco, or “Happy Ecosystem.”
LeEco is a lot different from other Chinese upstart tech companies such as Huawei or Xiaomi. One can’t define it as a hardware company. LeEco is an integration of all hardware, software and content. Some might say that LeEco is no more than a combination of Apple, Amazon, Google, Netflix, Samsung and Tesla. LeEco’s magic is to be able to link all its products into one complete ecosystem.
Traditional automakers generate profit by producing cars and selling them, which is a high-risk, asset-intensive, hardware delivering business model. LeEco is disrupting that by establishing a “pay-per-use” service-based business model. LeEco view mobility services as a natural extension of its ecosystem platform.
For instance, today’s LeEco has over 730 million monthly active users using LeEco content in China. And it has more than 5,000 licensed movies and 100,000 TV episodes. In the LeEco ecosystem, all of LeEco’s phones are configured to work with LeEco TV and its upcoming super car as remote controls. You can watch popular shows on the TV at home, use the remote to summon the autonomous driving LeSEE to pick you up at the front door, and continue watching the show on the car’s video screen or enjoy LeEco’s other programs. The LeSEE production car will be equipped with an “entertainment lounge” which will include LeMovies, LeMusic, and even LeWork. LeEco believes that there is a shift in the industry and it’s moving towards a new ecosystem-focused business. When connecting all these experiences together, LeEco ecosystem user interface breaks down boundaries. The LeEco’s TV, smartphone, super bike and the LeSEE Pro present by Jia and his team at the event compose the whole LeEco’s ecosystem. And its philosophy is to provide premium hardware at disruptive prices and recurring revenues focused on the services that flow through those hardwares, which will be offered through LeEco’s cloud computing service.
The LeSEE Pro
The car eventually made it to the event and media and analysts were able to look at it in a product showroom. As an updated version of the LeSEE concept that debuted in Beijing in April, LeSEE Pro has a slightly more realistic front, new wheels, a new rear bumper, and an LeEco logo lighting up the front fender. In terms of appearance, it doesn’t have much difference. But on closer look, it’s not hard to find that LeSEE Pro is definitely more intelligent and connected. It is equipped with autopilot technology for fully autonomous driving, and it offers voice controlled self-parking and supports features such as facial, path and emotion recognition. When the car goes into self-driving mode, the steering wheel can be folded into the dashboard.
In addition, the super car offers isolated space for each passenger, who can listen to music and watch video without interrupting others. The car’s design includes a small light for signal indicating the car is ready to pick up someone. And the color of lights also can change according to the driving mode and gender of drivers. The interior of the car is as modern as the exterior with a lot of LCD screens. As an autonomous driving car, its steering wheel can also be taken back into the front panel. “LeSEE Plan is a holistic ecosystem for future mobility,” said Ding Lei, co-founder and global vice chairman.
LeEco and Faraday Future
Faraday Future came on stage as well, announcing it would show its first production ready car, an electric SUV that will compete with the Tesla Model X, next January at CES in Las Vegas. Faraday Future (FF), founded in 2014, is an EV startup based in Gardena, California with Jia as a major investor. In December 2015, FF announced a $1 billion investment to build a 900-acre factory near Las Vegas.
LeEco had formed a research center and collaborative partnership with Faraday Future, to develop the world’s first “self-learning” driverless car. And huge investment has also been made by Jia in establishing a build-in mobility user’s base and Jia claimed it won’t be the mobility service itself that justifies his investment, but rather all the things that drivers (and passengers) do in and around the car to generate revenue. By collecting and analyzing big data, LeEco is also in the position to deliver a more personalized mobility solution.
Over the last few years the industry has witnessed how LeEco has pioneered new business models and its process of experimenting mobility as a service. LeEco has been preparing quite thoroughly for successfully launching in the U.S. market, through partnerships with MGM, Lionsgate, VICE and Showtime, as well as the acquisition of TV manufacturing company Vizio Inc. With Jia’s innovative ecosystem-based strategic approach, coupled with the Chinese government’s support of highly successful internet companies to enter the automotive industry to build a sustainable transportation infrastructure, it offers a clear picture that something new is happening in future mobility.
As long as LeSEE Pro design and quality is desirable, and price is reasonable, it seems like there is no reason that American consumers can neglect LeEco’s super car. It’s quite possible in the not so distance future that Ford might just find itself trailing the rear lights of a LeEco super car.