LeEco has become a world leader in smartphone and digital technology, but it is moving quickly to become a diversified powerhouse, just like high-tech corporations in the United States with tons of cash to burn. So, as Google has its investment in autonomous driving and Elon Musk continues to push Tesla, LeEco has been building its own car concepts, and the effort bore its first fruit on Tuesday with the announcement of the LeSEE, a high-end, electric vehicle with significant autonomous capabilities.
The surprise debut of the company’s first car prototype comes only a few months after LeEco’s investment into Faraday Futures and Aston Martin. But by the look of the concept, that partnership has already yielded impressive results. The LeSEE is nothing if not sleek, with a transparent hood that looks like the pods that ferried around the Jetsons. As of now, the car is equipped with only the ability to park autonomously, but LeEco is clearly positioning itself to be an autonomous leader in the Chinese market.
The prototype car also leverages some of LeEco’s strengths with digital technology to soup up the car’s interior. A view inside exposes a dashboard lavished with touch screens. Even the back of each headrest contains a tablet for use by passengers seated comfortably in the “body-conforming” foam-like backseat. Chock full of concept-car idealism, the LeEco nevertheless does seem to make the grade for basic feasibility.
LeEco CEO Jia Yueting did demonstrate the car’s self-parking and even briefly self-drove it during the demonstration, though at low speed given the contained space of the auditorium. The company has plans on how to inject the vehicle into the market that sound surprisingly pedestrian considering the typical bravado of American car manufacturers. LeEco is planning to unveil a fleet of the cars to serve as autonomous taxis, even suggesting that the car’s front lights adjust color based on their availability.
The befuddling conception of the vehicle seems to reflect a corporate ambiguity about who exactly will want to purchase the car. As the CEO more than acknowledges in his talk, the Chinese car industry has long languished beside international giants in the United States, Japan, Germany, and even Italy. So even as LeEco works to establish a place for Chinese cars, the company is hedging expectations, with the CEO declaring that the LeSEE “will be positioned as the most high-end, autonomous-driving, connected, smart, B-level car.”
It’s a mysterious restriction to place on itself, but it also fits the Chinese model of growing dominance of the smartphone and digital markets. Both Xiaomi and LeEco have become giants of the industry by producing good-looking, functional smartphones that do most of what the big brands offer at a fraction of the cost. LeEco is currently keeping quiet about price and production plans for the SEE, but the company may view the mid-level entry as a more viable target than jumping into competition with Tesla.
The LeSEE is set to make its official debut at the Beijing Auto Show on April 24th, and we will hopefully learn more about this surprise entry onto the global auto scene then.
(The LeSee makes its surprise entrance at 31:40)