Using all the tools available to good investigative reporters, the folks at RECODE have obtained a sketch of the sedan Ativea plans to build soon, together with information about where the car will be built. Atieva filed the documents with the state of California last year. RECODE obtained them through a public records access request.
The sedan, said to be named Atvus, appears to be a strictly ordinary four door sedan. RECODE says it resembles a Tesla Model S. You can form your own opinion. Personally, I think it looks like an Accord.
In September, Zhang Xin, Atieva’s deputy general manager in China, told Chinese reporters that the car will have fully independent front and rear electric motors and will be able to accelerate from zero to 100 kph in under three seconds. Atieva has released videos of a Mercedes cargo van named Edna that is says is equipped with the standard company powertrain stomping the likes of a Ferrari, a Dodge Viper, and a Model S in drag races.
There is as much going on behind the scenes at Atieva as there is in front of the cameras. The company was founded in 2007 by Sam Weng and two co-founders, Bernard Tse and Sheaupyng Lin. In the beginning, it focused on developing batteries and electric drivetrains. It filed for more than 100 patents and began delivering battery packs for electric buses in China. Then in 2014 BAIC, a state owned Chinese carmaker, and LeTV invested $100,000,000 in Atieva for a 50% stake in the company.
LeTV was a technology company making televisions, smartphones and electric bikes. It was owned by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting. LeTV has since changed its name to LeECO. Fueled by the infusion of new money, Atieva went on a hiring spree. It changed its focus from bus batteries to developing a complete, autonomous electric car to compete with the Tesla Model S.
Are you with me so far, as The Eagles would say? Things went along smoothly throughout 2015, but there was friction growing between the investors. Yueting had quietly started his own electric car company, Faraday Future, in 2014 without telling anyone at Atieva. Then LeECO, also owned by Yueting, announced its own plans to develop a luxury, connected EV called the LeSEE.
Meanwhile, BAIC was attempting to get access to Atieva’s battery and drivetrain technology, and wanted to shift the focus to the Chinese automotive market. Last November, co-founder Bernard Tse was abruptly ousted as CEO. Then in early 2016, according to former executives, BAIC sold its stake in the company. According to several sources close to Atieva, the buyer of BAIC’s shares was Jia Yueting. Suddenly, Yueting was in control of three companies all in competition with each other.
It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Perhaps Yueting is planning to do a reprise of the strategy William Durant used to create General Motors — several companies under one corporate umbrella all serving different segments of the automobile market. If so, Yueting should read his history. Things did not turn out so well for the intrepid Mr. Durant.
Atieva says it wants to start by buidling 20,000 cars a year — an ambitious target for a start-up car company. From there, its goal is to increase production to 130,000 cars a year. The problem is, it has no factory. The photo it submitted to the state of California for its factory is of a facility operated by Dayang Motorcycle company in Luoyang. Dayang makes a range of electric scooters and motorbikes, as well as a tiny two-seater micro-car called Chok with a top speed of 49mph. Building 20,000 premium automobiles to compete with Tesla at a factory that makes scooters is optimistic, and that’s putting it mildly.
LeECO is planning an unveiling later this month. Faraday Future has begun construction of a billion dollar new factory in Nevada. Where does that leave Atieva? The answer to that question has yet to be written.
Source: RECODE Image credit: State of California via public information request