China's LeEco gives a first look at its semi-autonomous Tesla fighter
After talking about a Tesla fighter for over a year, LeEco, the Chinese tech company formerly known as LeTV, has put money where its mouth is, revealing a sporty electric sedan concept at a big Beijing product reveal. We're not sure the new automotive player has Elon Musk quaking just yet, but the company seemingly has the money and will to disrupt the electric car industry, and it also has a working relationship with Aston Martin. Now it's officially added a pretty compelling concept car, the LeSEE.
The "Eco" in the company's name may seem like a nod to its dedication to more eco-friendly, all-electric transportation, but it's better thought of as short for "ecosystem," the big buzzword that is all over the company's materials and presentations. It revealed the LeSEE on a stage that also hosted LeEco's latest smartphone, TV and VR products, and LeEco's ultimate vision is for all four products - and probably plenty of others - to work together in an integrated, cloud-connected ecosystem, sharing hardware and software underpinnings. As it pertains to the car, it imagines passengers watching TV and consuming other services in a smart, fully connected autonomous car.
LeEco has been moving forward with its automotive efforts for 28 months and plans to develop its car entirely in-house. The primary focus of its Beijing presentation was technology and connected services, so it didn't get very far into the car's construction or specs.
LeEco did allude to some performance specs while keeping Tesla frozen square in its sights. A slide in its presentation showed the company's clear intentions of giving the car a higher top speed and longer range than the Model S. So far, the concept can reach 130 mph (209 km/h), which falls well short of the Model S' listed top speed range of 140 to 155 mph (225 to 241 km/h), depending on spec.
While the LeSEE is just a concept car with some fantastical design elements, it does show promise in the styling department. It's not a Model S knockoff, as one might have expected from a new auto venture targeting Tesla so openly. The car's extra-long cabin and arched transparent roof give it a stretched but sporty profile. It's not as curvy as some of the early renderings suggested it would be, but it seems sporty enough from most angles to pull people into dealerships (or stores).
One angle from which the LeSEE is not particularly sporty - or interesting at all - is the front. Even if you like the happy wraparound headlamp band, there's not much of anything else going on, and it feels like an afterthought. That's not entirely a styling failure, as LeEco's ultimate goal is to put a digital display at the center of that face, offering system information and car-sharing status from the outside. It sounds kind of gimmicky and unnecessary in a world in which we can get that info from a smartphone, but as long as LeEco does something with that lackluster, blank face, we'll be happy.
Car/ride-sharing appears to be an important part of LeEco's grand auto plan, not so surprisingly as it owns a majority stake in ride-sharing company Yidao Yongche and has a goal of increasing service. When it was time to reveal the LeSEE on stage, CEO Jia Yueting used the voice recognition software on his LeEco smartphone to "order a ride," and Ding Lei, vice chairman and managing director of LeEco's automotive efforts, drove the car out on stage to "pick him up." Later on, Yueting used the smartphone to order the car to park itself.
LeEco may look to shake up the car pricing model, too. While it didn't estimate a price for the car, it repeatedly stressed a vision of shifting business away from hardware sales and toward the sales of services and memberships. According to Reuters, it believes that strategy could one day be extended to cars. Cars would be offered for free or at deep discounts, with all the money being tied into connected services.
The LeSEE's interior features a sleek, low-profile cockpit with the obligatory touchscreen controls. The steering wheel is retractable, folding up and sliding into the dashboard when the car is in autonomous mode. The layered look of the rear seats has its inspirational roots in topography. LeEco says that it plans to make each seating position a discrete zone where each passenger can enjoy his or her own personal entertainment. Toward that end, there is a digital display integrated into the back of each front headrest.
To help make its visions reality, LeEco plans to build an autonomous driving research center in Silicon Valley, in cooperation with its partner Faraday Future. It will reveal more details about that plan (and hopefully about the LeSEE itself) at the Beijing Auto Show on April 25.
In the meantime, you can take a closer look at the LeSEE in the photo gallery and let us know what you think – should Elon Musk be worried?
Source: LeEco (Facebook)