Last week, a tech billionaire named Jia Yueting stood in a plain black shirt on a stage in front of thousands of people. A sleek, pearl white electric car called LeSEE was parked beside him as he addressed the crowd. This, the man said, is the future of cars, and the Chinese consumer electronics company LeEco is going to make that future a reality.
In an American consumer tech market characterized by buzzy gadget announcements from Apple and glamorous car unveils from Tesla, this type of event isn’t new. But Yueting says Apple is outdated and Tesla is old news. In the future, our cars will be so much more than cars.
“We’re not just building a car,” Yueting said in an interview with Reuters. “We consider the car a smart mobile device on four wheels, essentially no different to a cellphone or tablet.”
Yueting believes LeEco will take over the car market, because it won’t just sell a car, it will sell an all-in-one content machine complete with movies, TV shows, and music. As if that idea isn’t radical enough, LeEco’s connected cars will one day be completely free, financed by the sales of movies, TV shows, music, and other content.
LeEco’s business model is one of absolute disruption. It’s known as the “Netflix of China” because of how the company dominates the country’s media landscape. The LeSEE concept car is just another arm of the content-focused company.
“EVs for us are just another screen,” Hank Liu, LeEco cofounder and vice chairman, told Reuters. “We see cars in the future as an extension of the internet, another entry point for us to sell web-based content and services.”
In a recent interview with CNBC, Yueting explained that he isn’t threatened by the big tech and big car companies of today. LeEco focuses on the internet first in all of its business ventures — hence the comment about EVs being “just another screen.”
It’s the type of change that could make or break a company. Apple was innovative when it first came out, but Yueting says in the CNBC interview that Apple’s lack of internet-focused design has slowed innovation in the mobile industry. The next era of mobile connectivity will be designed with fast network speeds — and, apparently, fast cars — in mind.
LeEco’s car announcement displayed the type of content-and-car connection Yueting describes. It was held in the Beijing LeSports stadium (that LeEco owns) and also included announcements for new phones, a virtual reality headset, and a few new TV sets, according to Electrek. LeEco makes all of those products, and is the type of giant, synergistic conglomerate you would expect to try to take over the world.
Yueting’s LeEco goals as a car and content-delivery company are lofty. The car design concepts seem almost too futuristic, and combining all of the separate innovations in electric cars, autonomous cars, and all-in-one screen-based entertainment might sound as far off as The Jetsons sounded to people in the 1960s.
But if LeEco pulls it off, “Le”-branded electronics might be the only kind you will need to buy in the future.