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Beating Tesla means making your car smarter than an iPhone, says Future Mobility boss

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 4:10pm

Building an electric car that’s fast is not the way to beat Tesla, according to the head of Future Mobility Corp. The key to competing with the undisputed market leader is to pack in enough technology that the car becomes a smartphone on wheels.

The Chinese electric vehicle start-up is aiming to take on Tesla on a global scale by making cars “smarter than an iPhone” and featuring the kind of entertainment options you might find in a living room.

“Our mission is not to make cars faster – I believe that is not very useful – but to allow us to enjoy the time we spend in cars, making cars into another living room of your home. In order to achieve that, the car has to become a smart device,” Daniel Kirchert, co-founder and president of Future Mobility, told the South China Morning Post in an interview.

On Thursday, the company, which counts former executives from BMW and Nissan Motor as its founding shareholders and boasts engineers who worked for Google and Tesla, unveiled its new brand, Byton – referring to bytes on wheels – reflecting its strategy to compete in the increasingly crowded electric vehicle (EV) market by “making cars the next generation of smart device”.

Future Mobility’s first concept car will not debut until January 2018 in all its glory, but its interior design was unveiled on Thursday. One of its most obvious hi-tech features is a huge screen – 1.25 metres by 25 centimetres – on the front seat, a new user interface and smart functions such as voice control and gesture control.

Backed by Hong Kong-listed China Harmony New Energy Auto, Future Mobility is eyeing China’s huge auto market. By leveraging good manufacturing facilities and a healthy supply chain, it aims to tap Chinese consumers’ appetite for new technologies and establish itself as a smart, premium car maker that can challenge Tesla on a the international stage.

Chinese electric car start-up Future Mobility eyes global market in challenge to Tesla

“I firmly believe that there will be at least two or three companies, similar to Tesla, making new EVs from scratch, who emerge from China to become global players. There is enough room for that,” said Kirchert, an automobile industry veteran who has served as senior executives for Dongfeng Infiniti Motor and BMW Brilliance Automotive.

Our mission is not to make cars faster – I believe that is not very useful – but to allow us to enjoy the time we spend in cars
Daniel Kirchert, president, Future Mobility

Founded just last year, the company is competing head-to-head with a clutch of mainland electric car start-ups, including NextEV and Zhiche Auto, to reshape China’s automobile market by producing smart cars with internet connectivity and superior in-car information and entertainment systems.

Thursday’s brand launch came less than a month after Future Mobility closed a US$200 million funding round led by an investment fund of Suning Holdings and state-owned companies from Jiangsu province, where the company’s global headquarters and factory are located.

Previously backed by Chinese internet juggernaut Tencent Holdings and electronics giant Foxconn, Future Mobility’s first mass production model is a luxury sport-utility vehicle (SUV) priced between 300,000 yuan (US$44,833) and 400,000 yuan. It is expected to hit the market in 2019 and Kirchert claims it is well positioned to compete with the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. It will start taking global reservations from early next year after the debut of the first concept car in January.

In Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu province, construction of Future Mobility’s 10 billion yuan factory is scheduled to begin in early September. It will initially have a capacity of 100,000 units a year, eventually expanding to a capacity to 300,000 annually.

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