In a time when making cars becomes a fashion, William Li, founder and chairman of NextEV, told d1ev.com that it is not for everyone in a recent interview.
Li has a convincing resume. He set up China’s first colocation service when he was still in college. In 2000, he built the now well-known automotive portal bitauto.com and went public in the U.S. in 2010. In 2014, with funds from Tencent, autohome.com founder Li Xiang, jd.com founder Liu Qiangdong and other venture capital firms, he started NextEV, an electric automobile company.
NextEV has a world-class executive management team. President Martin Leach is a former Maserati CEO. The Chief Growth Officer (CGO) and North America division CEO Padmasree Warrior is Cisco’s former CTO. Qin Lihong, former Chery Sales Co. vice president, is the joint president. Former Fiat China’s president Jack Cheng is deputy vice president.
Li plans to cooperate with an existing OEM for the manufacturing license. In April 2016, NextEV reached a strategic agreement with JAC Motor in EV production involving more than ¥10 billion ($1.5 billion) in investment.
NextEV will focus on RB R&D and sales and work with JAC to build a world-class plant for electric vehicles production.
On the R&D side, NextEV has put together a large R&D team at seven locations around the world. In addition, NextEV announced to invest ¥3 billion to build an electric motor and control system manufacturing center in Nanjing. Li thinks high performance motors and control systems are the key to electric vehicles. With top talents from all over the world, NextEV has developed a world-class electric powertrain and is “willing to share it with other Chinese EV companies.”
On the battery side, Li said NextEV will only build its own battery pack but not the battery cores. It will instead “use the world’s best batteries available.”
NextEV will debut its first car at the end of this year. It will be an electric super sport car to “show our R&D and design capability.” Similar to Tesla, NextEV will start in the luxury segment and expand into the economy segment later.
Li revealed for the first time that NextEV has kicked off its second production model. “Internally, it is our fourth vehicle. Our first one is a racing car which will be competing in Formula E. The second will be a super sport car, to be followed by two volume models,” he said. A total of $1 billion has been invested on its first production vehicle.
Li also revealed that his volume model will be equipped with an autonomous driving system between Level 2 (semi-autonomous) and Level 3 (highly-autonomous), with a fully autonomous ready interface.
“In making cars, I have been confident on the software side. With all the talents we have put together, I am now also confident on the hardware side.” But Li cautioned about the complexity and uncertainty of the car making process.
To surpass traditional automakers, Li believes his chance comes in user experience. A good understanding of user discomfort through aggressively collecting user feedback and entitling them to their desired options are the key aspects, according to Li. “It is unrealistic for users to do design and development. What users want is always going to be the best vehicle with the lowest price, which does not exist,” Li said. Vehicle designers therefore have to strike a balance between performance, cost, quality and turnaround time. To find the sweet spot, Li think all it takes sometimes is just common sense.
Li categorizes successful companies into three kinds. The first kind is timing driven, such as coal mines which benefit from high prices. The second is technology driven, such as Intel and Qualcomm. The third, or the highest level, is driven by humanity and personal values, such as Starbucks. They are the greatest because they are beyond timing and technology. His goal is to build NextEV into the third kind of company.
“If you only treat cars as a mean of transportation, you should not buy a car. In the Bay area in the U.S., the popular Uber service did not kill car sale. On the contrary, sales actually went up by 40 percent. This is because a car means much more than a transportation tool. It means freedom, mobility, safety and privacy for the owner. Autonomous driving will change a lot of things, but Uber will take the first blow.”
What is NextEV’s company value? Li emphasizes user belongingness. “The relationship between users and the carmaker should not be a simple one-time involvement. It should evolve into a feeling of belongingness. I believe this is the future of automobile business.”
(Translated by Kevin Wang based on author’s article published on d1ev.com)