Atieva is one of those shadowy new automobile start-ups that has been hiding behind a wall of mystery and intrigue. Earlier this month, another enigma — Faraday Future — pulled back the curtain a bit to say it will show off its car at the CES show that begins January 5.
Faraday is backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yeuting, owner of LeTV, a fabulously successful enterprise known as “the Chinese Netflix.” Now China’s state owned auto company BAIC says its Beijing Electric Car Company division has bought a majority interest in Atieva, the San Francisco based operation that says “We’re redefining what a car can be by building an iconic new vehicle from the ground up. We’re a car company, not a design house. And we’re definitely not a traditional automaker.”
According to Autocar, Atieva was founded in 2007 by former Tesla vice president Bernard Tse and Astoria Networks founder Sam Weng. Originally, it focused on software for the monitoring of individual battery cells and battery management systems. In addition to BAIC, Atieva has also partnered with German electronics giant Siemens and Korea’s SK Group, a battery cell producer.
BAIC sells a five door electric car in China known as the E150 EV which has a 23.4 kWh lithium ion battery technology and a range of 87 miles. (Both numbers are very similar to those for the Nissan Leaf.) Industry observers think the Atieva will have a much bigger battery and a lot more range — possibly as much as 300 miles. We will know more in April, when BAIC says the first Atieva will be revealed.
Atieva plans to offer a full range of automobiles in markets around the world but has not said where its cars will be built. It has also kept quiet about why its cars will be different from everybody else’s cars. It’s one thing to make bold claims on your website. Is quite a different matter to back them up. Even a perennial optimist like Elon Musk has found out that building a real car is a far more daunting task than even he ever imagined.
Lurking just outside the picture is yet another Chinese start-up car company called NextEV, which says it has already raised a half billion dollars in initial funding. Add Apple, Google, and Uber into the mix of new companies that all think they are going to shake up the auto business and you have a ferment of change unseen since the days of Engine Charlie Wilson and the beginnings of General Motors. There will surely be winners and losers in the group. We just don’t know who they will be yet.