China’s LeEco unveils driverless car prototype in US – sort of

LeEco CEO and founder YT Jia, R, and co-founder and Global Vice Chairman Lei Ding pose in front of a LeSEE car during a press event in San Francisco. October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Chinese technology company LeEco on Wednesday made an inauspicious entry into the race to develop self-driving electric cars when its prototype car could not make it down the runway at a gala event here.

China’s Le Holdings Co Ltd, also known as LeEco, planned to unveil its self-driving car prototype as part of a splashy US launch for an array of technology products and services, including phones, televisions and entertainment production.

Executives from Qualcomm and Lionsgate joined LeEco founder, Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting, to underscore the importance of the US market to one of China’s biggest technology companies.

The choice of the San Francisco venue, in the backyard of luxury electric car maker Tesla and Alphabet’s Google self-driving car team, underscored the globalization of the race to develop connected, electric and eventually autonomous vehicles.

But when Jia made his appearance running down a long runway in a cloud of dry ice, he had to tell the audience his LeSee prototype car couldn’t drive down the show’s runway as planned.

LeEco CEO and founder YT Jia runs on stage during a press event in San Francisco, California. October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

“It shouldn’t be me running out here, we didn’t have any other choice,” Jia told the audience, speaking through a translator. “What we wanted was me in the car, and the autonomous car drives me out.”

The misfire was caused by a delay getting the LeSee car prototype from London – where it is being used in the film “Transformers 5” – to San Francisco, company officials said.

The “LeSee” prototype – first unveiled in April in Beijing – was made available for viewing after the show.

LeEco executives said they envision the car as part of a shared ownership system, and said it could benefit from a strategic partnership with Los Angeles-based Faraday Future, an electric vehicle start-up also controlled by Jia. No details were given of that alliance.

Faraday will unveil its first production vehicle in Las Vegas in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, Jia said.

LeEco’s focus on the interconnectivity of screens puts the Chinese company squarely in the path of Apple and other US technology giants trying to bridge the gap between hardware like phones or cars and the software that connects them to each other.

Besides LeEco, other Chinese companies have been investing heavily in Silicon Valley with electric vehicle start-ups, including Baidu, Alibaba, Xiaomi, and Tencent.

LeEco plans to launch its phone and television products on Nov. 2.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage)

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