Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC) and Californian company Atieva plan to unveil their first electric vehicle at the 2016 Beijing motor show
10 December 2015

One of China’s biggest car makers has thrown its support behind a fledgling start-up company that plans to take on Tesla with what it describes as a “breakthrough electric car”.

Californian-based firm Atieva is being backed by Beijing Electric Vehicle Company, an offshoot of the Chinese state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC), which already operates successful joint-ventures with Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler as well as Hyundai.

Together with a group of high profile component and technology suppliers, BAIC and Atieva plan to develop a range of electric cars to be offered for sale globally. The first model is set to be unveiled as a concept at the 2016 Beijing motor show.

In an official statement, BAIC has confirmed that it plans to become Atieva’s largest shareholder in a move aimed at providing the company, which is based in San Francisco, with the financial stability to realise its goal of challenging Tesla and the growing number of traditional car makers that are moving into the electric car ranks.

As well as providing key funding, BAIC will also provide Atieva with electric vehicle expertise through its new electric vehicle technical centre, which was opened in Silicon Valley in October.

The Chinese car maker already sells a number of electric cars in the domestic Chinese market, including the BAIC E150 EV. But while the compact five-door hatchback relies on conventional 23.4kWh lithium ion battery technology and boasts a claimed range of just 87 miles under the Chinese combined cycle test, the new electric car being developed with Atieva is rumoured to use a much larger battery with more contemporary cell technology that will provide it with a theoretical range of more than 300 miles.

Further details on the new joint-venture electric car remain scarce, although a basic sketch which featured on Atieva’s official website suggests it may have a sporting design similar in certain respects to the Tesla Model S.

A mission statement on the Atieva website said: “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."

Atieva was founded in 2007 by former Tesla vice president Bernard Tse and Astoria Networks founder Sam Weng. Its original operations centred around software for the monitoring of individual battery cells as well as controls for battery packs used in plug-in hybrid drivelines.

Other companies involved in the development of the new Atieva electric car include German-based industrial giant Siemens, Korean battery cell manufacturer SK Group and Italian vehicle design and production specialist CECOMP.

Atieva is one of several start-up companies developing electric cars with financial backing from Chinese investors.

Los Angeles-based Faraday Future has already indicated that it will reveal a Tesla Model S rival at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January.

NextEV, headquartered in Shanghai but with a network of global research facilities, also recently revealed it is working on a road-going electric car.

Our Verdict

Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is an upmarket rear-wheel-drive electric saloon

In theory, this all-electric luxury car looks a hit. So is it in practice?

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