Future Mobility to have first driverless electric cars on the road by 2020

Tencent-backed startup pitching its new models against BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, says chief executive Carsten Breitfeld

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 10:01pm

Future Mobility Corp, the Chinese electric car startup backed by internet giant Tencent Holdings, plans to have its first driverless vehicles on the road by 2020.

Its first models, which will be produced in China, are being targeted at middle-class buyers of German premium brands rather that US’ electric carmaker Tesla, said chief executive Carsten Breitfeld in an interview with the Post on Tuesday.

“Our market share will not come from what Tesla has today, it will come from [buyers of] BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz,” said Breitfeld, who previously headed a team to build the BMW i8 electric sports car.

The company, which also counts Apple’s contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry and car dealership group China Harmony New Energy Auto Holding as shareholders, plans to sell its cars in the US and Europe, as well as domestically.

Future Mobility is among several auto startups being backed by Chinese internet giants who are betting big on new-energy vehicles, amid the government’s growing support for the green car industry.

SUV (sports utility vehicle) and SAV (sports activity vehicle) are successful segments. We will go for those first
Carsten Breitfeld, Future Mobility chief executive

Tencent has also invested in NextEV, which is seen as one of Tesla’s prime competitors.

While billionaire entrepreneur Jia Yueting’s LeEco is another potentially high-flying player in the market, having backed Faraday Future, the Silicon Valley startup.

Pricing its first cars at about 300,000 yuan (HK$348,000), Breitfeld said his firm will create “a premium but affordable brand which will have global reach”.

Future Mobility has already set up a team in Silicon Valley to focus on autonomous, or driverless, car technology, while a development centre will be opened in Shenzhen in mid-October.

The company is targeting an annual output capacity of between 250,000 to 300,000 cars soon after the production of its first model in 2020, and plans to add more models to its lineup, Breitfeld said.

“SUV (sports utility vehicle) and SAV (sports activity vehicle) are successful segments. We will go for those first,” he said.

The company is yet to decide on whether to build its own production plant, but Breitfeld said it is in talks with some local governments regards possible plans.

“Some provincial governments have approached us to come to their cities and are offering subsidies,” he said, declining to provide more details.

Another possibility is to use existing local manufacturing facilities to minimise risks and investment, he said.

“We will make a decision by end of this year, but production will definitely be in China.”

Breitfeld said the company will complete its Series A funding round by the end of this quarter but declined to reveal its size, other than to say “it will be a significant amount”.

“We have had a lot of discussions with people from the capital market in the past month preparing for a B or even C round. We are interested in strategic investors because the auto business is a long-term business,” he said, adding there are no plans to introduce any automaker as a strategic investor.