Chinese billionaire's EV startups map ambitious plans

DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Three electric-car startups funded by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting will display vehicles at the giant CES 2017 trade show in Las Vegas next month, and two former executives told Reuters that one of the companies plans to roll out a dozen models through 2026.

Jia Yueting, co-founder and head of Le Holdings Co Ltd, also known as LeEco and formerly as LeTV, unveils an all-electric battery "concept" car called LeSEE during a ceremony in Beijing, China April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The three companies still have not detailed how they plan to fund their efforts to challenge Tesla Motors Inc in the luxury electric vehicle market.

One of the three, Faraday Future, has said it will unveil a prototype of its first production vehicle but did not provide details. The two former executives, who declined to speak on the record, described the vehicle to Reuters and gave other details of the company’s ambitious 10-year strategy.

Faraday has said its first vehicle is slated for production in early 2018. The former executives said the company uses the internal designation Project 91 for the vehicle. They described it as a large, luxury flagship sedan designed to sell for $150,000-$200,000 -- more than the most expensive Tesla.

They said a second model, designated Project 81 and due about a year later, is a mid-size crossover slotted in size and price between the Tesla Model S and Model X. Faraday plans a third, less expensive model to debut around 2020.

A Faraday spokesperson declined to comment on those details.

Faraday started building a $1 billion assembly plant outside Las Vegas, but stopped work in November. According to a Nevada state official, the company missed several payments to the building contractor.

On Wednesday, another of the companies, California-based Lucid Motors, unveiled a prototype of the Lucid Air, a $100,000 luxury sedan it hopes to begin building in Arizona in late 2018. Lucid, formerly named Atieva, plans to follow the launch of the Air with a pair of luxury crossovers in 2020-2021, company executives told Reuters in June.

Lucid executive Peter Rawlinson on Wednesday said the company plans to seek additional funding from investors in early 2017. He said LeEco is a minority investor in Lucid, but has no other connection.

In November, Jia said the third electric vehicle company he is backing, Beijing-based LeEco, faced a shortage of cash and was suffering from expanding too fast, in too many directions. Weeks later, LeEco’s parent, Leshi Holdings, said it had secured commitments in China for $600 million to support LeEco.

Jia’s plan to build three factories - one for each brand - is expected to cost at least $3.5 billion, according to estimates from each company. Design and engineering could boost startup costs by another $1 billion or more, according to sources familiar with Jia’s strategy.

LeEco, whose U.S. headquarters is in San Jose, earlier this year announced plans to build its own $1.8 billion factory in Hangzhou, China. It plans to show a self-driving concept called LeSEE Pro at CES.

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and Alexandria Sage in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio