Leshi founder and CEO Jia Yueting’s dream of building a “Super Car” and creating an automotive internet ecosystem to solve the country’s smog and traffic congestion problems took one step forward on January 20 when the company announced the LeOS Auto smart car operation system.
The announcement at a press conference in Beijing came exactly six weeks after Jia announced that the internet company would build a smart electric car, a plan that had been in the works since early 2014.
Since then, Jia has assembled a R&D team of some 260 people for the project including domestic and international experts from the traditional automobile, EV, internet and smart hardware space. Leshi also announced the establishment of Leshi Super Electric Car Co. and the appointment of industry veteran Allen (Zhengyu) Lv – former head of Infiniti China – as the subsidiary’s vice president. Leshi had earlier tapped He Yi, former head of sohu.com’s auto business unit as CEO of Leshi Connected Vehicles.
Besides the LeOS Auto, not much was disclosed about the Super Car itself except a couple of interior design sketches and that Leshi expects to be one of the first non-automotive companies to receive approval for a production license, according to He. Most of He and Lv’s speeches centered on reasons why Leshi is determined to move into the automobile business and how it plans to disrupt the industry.
A key feature of the Super Car, He revealed to the delight of the audience, will be that it would offer twice the functionalities of comparable models at half or even a third of the cost, much like the way it has done with its Super TV.
The question that comes immediately to mind is, can Leshi really succeed in the auto industry by copying the same formula that disrupted the TV industry? BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu for one was skeptical and recently weighed in on Leshi and other internet companies’ efforts to move into the car assembly business, saying that it is all just hype and a joke that they can possibly disrupt the auto industry.
While Wang may have been quick to make a judgment and it is still too early to say that Leshi’s plan to disrupt the industry and its Super Car would definitely succeed or fail, plenty of questions remain. How exactly will its Super Car solve the smog and traffic congestion problems? Does the current team have the right ingredients to push the project ahead smoothly? Can it overcome regulatory and policy hurdles? Will it have enough capital from both public markets and private investors to finance future activities?
As the old saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For Leshi, a few steps have been taken but the remaining journey will likely be treacherous and challenging.