Is China’s Li Xiang the next Elon Musk?

Siyang Wang

“By 2030, electric cars will make up a majority of new automobiles, and China will become the largest market for electric cars,” said Elon Musk, just recently on his third trip to China. The same optimism towards EVs is shared by Li Xiang, perhaps the soon-to-be Chinese Elon Musk.

Li Xiang, the former CEO of Autohome Inc., began on his latest startup journey four months ago. This time, he intends to enter the electric car industry.

The 34-year-old billionaire founded Autohome ten years ago. The company’s current market value has reached USD 3.92 billion. Over the past few years, Autohome has built up a platform through its websites and mobile app to provide automobile consumers with comprehensive, independent and interactive information covering the entire car purchase and ownership cycle. The company has facilitated transactions for automakers and dealers, and is becoming the largest automobile shopping site.

Li Xiang attributes Autohome’s success to “always putting customers first” and “seizing market opportunities”. The rapid growth of Autohome echoes the great expansion of China’s automobile market. China has been home to the world’s No.1 vehicle market over the past six years.


But Li Xiang is changing gears to seize opportunities in electrical vehicles. “The decisive moment happens when the market begins to take off,” Li Xiang said.

Last year, the automobile market of China witnessed the debut of Tesla and a sale of more than 74,000 new energy vehicles (3.2 times that of 2013). The Chinese government is promoting electric vehicles to reduce air pollution in metropolitan areas.

As a representative for electric cars, Tesla has stirred up enough consumer interest for electric vehicles and its expansion in China continues. Tesla last week announced it delivered 33,117 vehicles globally for the first three quarters of this year, with sales in China accounting for about 10% of total sales worldwide.

The main challenge faced by Tesla and other electric car manufacturers is that owners cannot recharge their cars easily in China. The majority of Tesla’s target customers are living in apartments rather than detached houses, which means the process of building personal charging stations in residence communities can be long, complicated and difficult, market research indicates. In terms of public charging stations, since Tesla uses its own charging standard, the U.S company has had to build out its own stations. Up till present, Tesla has set up more than 50 “supercharging” stations in about 20 cities in China and more than a thousand long-distance charging stations nearby to 70 cities.

Despite all the concern, more players including Apple, China’s BAT companies and traditional automakers like Ford and BMW are ambitiously entering the EV industry. Many believe that the coming battle of the smart cars in China will take place through several alliances built between different IT companies and their cooperative partners in the auto industry.

Li Xiang, on the other hand, appears to be taking a different direction by producing accessible EVs. “We don’t want to challenge Tesla or any other giant automaker. We just want to make compact, attractive and affordable smart cars for everybody.” Li Xiang said to his 600,000 followers on Weibo.

Li’s new company, Beijing Car and Home Information Technology Co., LTD, was established in April 2015 with 300 million RMB (USD 50 million) of registered capital.

(Photos from Baidu Image)

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