Chinese start-up poaches BMW’s electric experts

In a sure sign that China is getting very serious indeed about the future of electric cars, Chinese electric vehicle startup Future Mobility has recruited the brains behind BMW’s electric i8 sports car.

The Chinese company may be an unknown in the vehicle world, but it’s backed by some very big money - the curiously named Tencent Holdings and Foxconn. Tencent Holdings is an electronics, social media and online gaming giant worth over US$200 billion, while Foxconn, which manufactures Apple products, is worth US$40 billion.

Benoit Jacob, the i8’s designer, has been joined by Dirk Adenbroth, Henrik Wenders and Carsten Breitfeld - all key figures in the development of BMW’s electric vehicles.

While Tencent Holdings and Foxconn have no experience in cars, let alone electric cars, a third partner, China Harmony New Energy Auto Holding Ltd., is a well established luxury car dealer across China.

It’s an ambitious move by the Chinese start-up and an indication of China’s seriousness about tackling some of the worst air pollution in the world. China’s government sees electric cars as playing a major role in reducing the problem.

It’s also a move that could prove disruptive to BMW and other electric vehicle makers if the Chinese company’s deep pockets lure other key experts from Germany and elsewhere. BMW is considered a leader in electric vehicles among Germany’s carmakers, a position that might now be under threat. It was already struggling against its American competitor Tesla. BMW is remaining tight-lipped about the defection of its core personnel.

China is one of the world’s biggest markets for electric vehicles with sales of 250,000 vehicles in 2015 – that’s an increase of 450% over the previous year.

Chinese start-up poaches BMW's electric experts

BMW’s electric vehicle sales, by contrast, have not been so stellar. Last year they sold 24,057 i3 models, and 5,456 i8 models - a 66% increase in BMW electric division sales. While BMW’s electric vehicles seem destined for a niche market, Tesla, Nissan (with its Leaf) and the fledgling Chinese start-up have their eyes firmly on the prize of the mass-market.



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Categories: Technology, Electric
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