Remember Atieva? The little-known startup from Silicon Valley which we first wrote about in May this year? Located just a stone’s throw from Tesla Motors’ Palo Alto headquarters, the fledgling company has been operating in relative obscurity for the past eight years, slowly building its own plans to bring an all-electric car to market.
And at next year’s Beijing Motor Show, we’ll get to see the fruits of its labors for the first time in the form of a concept car.
That’s according to British magazine Autocar, which reports that the company will unveil its first concept car at the 2016 Beijing Motor Show, funded in part by its new majority shareholder, the Beijing Electric Vehicle Company. That company, itself a subsidiary subsidiary of Chinese state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC), purchased a majority controlling share in Altiva last week.
Prior to the majority share acquisition, Atieva had completed three successful funding rounds totalling $131 million. The first two, venture investments worth $7 million and $24 million respectively, took place in December 2009 and January 2011. The most recent — a $100 million private equity investment — took place last May.
While the company remains an unknown, its founders, Bernard Tse and Sam Weng have plenty of experience in the automotive and tech industry. Tse is a former Tesla VP and board member from 2003 through 2007, while Weng, a former Oracle executive, brings the business acumen essential of any valley startup.
Back in May, we told you that Atieva’s website was fairly devoid of information, containing a simple animated outline of a fast-moving coupe with sleek lights playing above the fold. Above that animation, the simple proclamation that Atieva is “challenging the idea of what a car can be.”
Little has changed since then, save for a total of more than 100 new job positions at the company, a massive increase on the number of situations vacant in May. Unlike a traditional automotive company, where mechanical engineering might be the most likely position advertised, we note that there are more than fifty software engineering positions listed as vacant, while Atieva is only looking for around 34 mechanical engineers and just 11 hardware engineers.
It is perhaps this ratio which underlies Atieva’s place in the automotive market, far closer to Tesla Motors and of course Farday Future — another Chinese-backed startup promising to revolutionize the way we think about cars forever — than to a traditional Detroit automaker.
Atieva, given its location and founders, clearly has the technological side of a futuristic electric car sewn up, but where it differs from Tesla (and FF) is that it has the knowledge of BAIC to call upon when it comes to experience in automotive mass-production.
To date, BAIC’s most successful electric car has been the E150EV, a car which externally looks very much like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class electric hatch, yet lacks the trademark attention to detail of the German automaker. It offers a claimed range of around 87 miles per charge from a 24 kilowatt-hour on-board battery pack.
Atieva’s first car meanwhile, is rumored to use a larger battery pack made of a more advanced battery cell chemistry, yielding 300 miles of range per charge Worth noting here is that German electronics giant Siemens and South-Korean battery manufacturer SK Group are both listed by Atieva as being involved in its vehicle development. So too is Italian firm CECOMP, which specialises in vehicle design and production.
Of course, BAIC isn’t using Atieva as its only source of electric vehicles. It is currently engaged in several electric vehicle projects, including one jointly operated with Daimler and one jointly operated with Hyundai.
But while BAIC’s prowess in the Chinese car market, not to mention its other big-name partnerships, should give Atieva a much-needed boost on its way to bringing a production electric car to market, it won’t necessarily mean we’ve got another Tesla Motors waiting in the wings.
That’s because building a successful electric car company is about far more than having investment, knowledge and a production facility. It’s about making a car that people will feel emotionally attached to. It’s about making a car that is reliable, and it’s about selling a dream to customers that can’t be satisfied by anyone else.
And that’s a tough thing to do.
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