Another aspiring Chinese Tesla: NextEV and its founder William Li


NextEV Formula E race car

NextEV Formula E race car

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Tesla Motors should feel very flattered indeed.

The Silicon Valley carmaker's success has spurred a number of Chinese investors and tech entrepreneurs to start rival electric-car companies.

One of those potential rivals is NextEV, which emerged into public view last year.

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It was started by William Li, who previously co-founded Bitauto Holdings Ltd., the largest provider of car-pricing data to Chinese dealers.

While he hopes NextEV will become China's Tesla, Li also showed that he was a realist in a recent interview with Bloomberg.

Taking a car from concept to production is very difficult, so Li only gives his company a 5 percent chance of success.

2014 Tesla Model S in China

2014 Tesla Model S in China

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Many companies have been inspired by Tesla to build electric cars, but most "have no idea what they're facing," Li said.

NextEV can at least count on support from venture-capital giants Sequoia Capital and Hillhouse Capital, and employees with auto-industry experience.

The company's president, Martin Leach, was previously president of Ford Europe and CEO of Maserati.

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NextEV also reportedly has veterans of BMW, Tesla, and Volkswagen in its ranks.

But while it is drawing on the established car industry for experience, NextEV may end up building a very different kind of vehicle.

Traditional carmakers treat the car as "95 percent transportation tool," Li said, but he plans to focus more on connectivity and infotainment features.

Faraday Future FFZERO1 concept

Faraday Future FFZERO1 concept

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Tesla electric cars already include 20 to 30 percent non-transportation content, but NextEV will try to boost that portion to 50 percent, Li said.

This vision of the car as mobile device is shared with another Chinese electric-car entrepreneur—billionaire tech mogul Jia Yueting.

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Jia believes cars can be another outlet for the streaming services of his company LeEco, which is known as "China's Netflix."

LeEco is backing U.S. startup Faraday Future, but also unveiled a concept car of its own called the LeSee at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show.

LeEco LeSee concept, 2016 Beijing Auto Show

LeEco LeSee concept, 2016 Beijing Auto Show

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The two Chinese companies are also alike in that few details are known about the cars they eventually plan to produce.

Last year, NextEV boasted that its first electric car would have 1,000 horsepower, and a 0 to 60 mph time of no more than three seconds.

So far though, the only car wearing the NextEV name is a Formula E series racer, based on the same Spark-Renault SRT_01E chassis used by other teams.

[hat tip: John Augustine]

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