From China with love: LeEco to develop electric cars with James Bond car maker Aston Martin

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 February, 2016, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2016, 9:19am

British luxury car maker Aston Martin has agreed to team up with Chinese entertainment portal LeEco, formerly known as Letv, to make electric cars, the companies said this week.

The first vehicle from the new joint venture will be called the RapidE, an all-electric version of Aston Martin’s Rapide S sports car, the auto maker said in a statement. It is expected to hit the market in 2018.

“We hope that, by strengthening our collaboration with Aston Martin, we will roll out future models with premium specifications and of the same high quality that Aston Martin is known for,” said Ding Lei, vice chairman of LeEco’s own electric car venture SEE Plan (Super Electric Ecosystem).

WATCH: built for Bond - Aston Martin’s DB10 gets taken for a spin

The latest deal marks a big step forward in the two companies’ partnership, which was forged last year when LeEco began providing in-car entertainment systems for the Rapide S.

Further down the road, the joint venture will churn out new models for both companies’ own brands, according to the statement.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

This is not LeEco’s first foray into the electric car market, however: it backed Faraday Future, an American company touted as an emerging rival to Tesla, at an event in Silicon Valley last year.

READ MORE: Chinese-backed electric car maker Faraday Future unveils Batmobile-like FFZERO1 concept that can be put together like Lego

And testament to Aston Martin’s enduring appeal, the company just saw one of its models - a DB10 made especially for James Bond that featured in Spectre - auctioned off at Christie’s in London for US$3.5 million.

Moreover, China is embracing electric cars with the full backing of the central government as it looks to clean energy and other ways to reduce the smog epidemic seen in many of its big cities.

It announced last autumn that it was ramping up subsidies to accelerate the construction of recharging stations. The goal: to have sufficient infrastructure in place by 2020 to handle 5 million plug-in vehicles.

Although sales of electric cars on the mainland have fallen short - often embarrassingly so - of official targets in recent years, by December 2014 they had grown to almost 30 times the level seen in January of that year, reports indicate.

To cover all bases, the nation is also taking a leading role in making electric batteries.

READ MORE: ‘Hong Kong will become most beautiful race of Formula E calendar’ - the HK$300m vision for massive event

Moreover, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was in Hong Kong recently praising the city, which welcomes

its first Formula E race in October, as a pioneer in the adoption of EVs.

Tesla’s Model S is now officially the top-selling sedan in the city, having sold 2,221 in 2015. Hong Kong also has the highest density of Tesla superchargers in the world.

READ MORE: Hong Kong ideally placed to power ahead with electric cars

LeEco started out as an online video-streaming company and evolved into a many-faceted group consisting of entertainment, internet and consumer electronics businesses. It entered the electric car business in January 2015 when it formed SEE Plan.

It has also taken a gamble on Faraday Future, which hired a number of former Tesla employees, including the latter’s director of vehicle and chassis design, and director of manufacturing.

The start-up announced plans to build a US$10 billion factory in Las Vegas last year, before it released a futuristic 1,000 horsepower concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show in that city last month.

LeEco is not the only technology company entering the electric car business with the help of traditional car makers.

China’s social media giant Tencent Holding has partnered with Taiwan manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry and Chinese car retailer and manufacturer Harmony Auto Holding to create a joint-venture in electric cars.

Search engine company Baidu had received help from BMW, while e-commerce giant Alibaba Group collaborated with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation(SAIC).