20 February 2019
China's LeTV has officially outlined its aim to enter the smart electric car business. Photo: Internet
China's LeTV has officially outlined its aim to enter the smart electric car business. Photo: Internet

Does LeTV have what it takes to become China’s Tesla?

Online video operator LeTV unveiled this week its latest product line-up and technology initiatives. Among the more significant announcements was LeUIAuto interface, a custom operating system for smart automobile navigation. The Chinese firm also officially outlined its aim to enter the smart electric car business.

The plans suggest that the company wants to emerge as the Tesla of China. But does it really have the chops to achieve such distinction?

The LeUIAuto includes features such as detailed navigation and mapping tool. According to LeTV, users can get road information through the system anytime, anywhere. They can even check parking locations, traffic status and control the cars using smart television sets or smartphones.

To put it simply, LeTV wants to replicate in the car business the success it scored in smart TV initiatives.

On top of developing software for smart cars, the group wants to build smart electric cars on its own.

Just about a year ago, most of the firm’s senior staff were against the idea of expanding into the car making business, according to Beijing Times. Given the huge risks involved, they felt the project was a mission impossible.

However, chief executive Jia Yue-ting gave his full support to the project. Jia wrote on Weibo about his ambition to build the best super electric car, establish an eco system for automotive internet, and help alleviate the haze and traffic jams in Chinese cities.

Jia assembled a research and development team in Silicon Valley in the United States, hiring over 260 professionals from all over the world to work on the development of car battery, engine system and car body design.

LeTV also co-invested in Atieva, an advanced battery maker for plug-in car, with Beijing Automotive Group last August. The latter holds the largest stake while LeTV is the second-largest shareholder.

As of now, China’s top three internet firms have all entered the Internet of vehicles (IoV) field, but none of them have achieved anything concrete so far.

Even the global leader Tesla is having trouble expanding its business in China.

The US firm’s founder and chief executive Elon Musk said earlier this month that sales were strong when the auto brand was first introduced into China last year. But the fourth-quarter saw unexpectedly weak performance.

The reason? Chinese drivers find it inconvenient and time-consuming to charge their Tesla vehicles, with the charging pod infrastructure network yet to be completed.

Compared to electronics manufacturing, making cars is more complicated and also involves higher entry barriers.

Automakers also need substantial offline dealer network to sell the vehicles; possessing strong online capabilities alone won’t be enough.

Thus, it is no surprise that most observers expect LeTV to have a bumpy ride in its new business.

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EJ Insight writer

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