While Tesla and Google make headlines as the purported disruptors of our era, it's Geely that has quietly seized on the industry's biggest challenges — not with small-scale pilot projects but expansive commitments and aggressive strategies to fulfill them.
Driving that ambition is Li, who grew up in a farming region in Zhejiang province and began his vocational life as a photographer before moving on to engineering and entrepreneurship.
Michael Dunne, president of Dunne Automotive, a Hong Kong investment advisory firm and an expert on the Chinese auto industry, calls Li "part poet, part visionary — at heart a fearless entrepreneur."
Says Dunne: "He asks, 'What do we have to do to win?' "
Electrification? Check. Geely's Volvo has pledged to offer an all-electrified lineup by 2019, and a separate subbrand called Polestar is devoted to making electric cars not just practical, but fast and sexy — that is, Tesla-like. In 2016, Geely delivered roughly 49,000 EVs in China, second only to Chinese EV giant BYD. In 2015, Li announced a target of deriving more than 90 percent of annual sales from alternative-energy vehicles by 2020, with EVs accounting for no fewer than 35 percent of those vehicles.
Urban mobility? Check. Geely owns the company that produces London's iconic black cabs, and it has a new U.K. plant that's fitting them with plug-in hybrid powertrains. Last year, Geely launched a proprietary ride- hailing service under the name Cao Cao. As of June, it had dispatched more than 10,000 EV taxis to 11 cities in eastern China.
Autonomy? Check. Volvo is a research leader in safety and focused on making unsupervised autonomous cars a reality by 2021. It has a joint venture with Sweden's Autoliv to develop software for autonomous systems that can be supplied to other automakers.
Economies of scale? Check. Ever since the Geely holding company acquired Volvo from Ford Motor Co. in 2010, Li has arranged for the Geely brand and Volvo to develop vehicle technologies and platforms together. In August, Li formed a Volvo-Geely joint venture to share all vehicle architectures, powertrain development and electrification, and Geely's new global premium brand, Lynk & CO, will gain access to Volvo's newest modular platform for midsize and large vehicles. Geely also has acquired stakes in Malaysian automaker Proton and sports car maker Lotus.
Alternative ownership and retail models? Check. When Lynk & CO's 01 compact crossover arrives in the U.S. in 2019, Geely plans to let buyers order online, rather than through a franchised dealership. Another concept, the 03 sedan, includes onboard software to enable sharing and a subscription payment model.
"We hope to pass down the spirit of sharing through automobiles," the company says in a 2016 report.
Sure, but what about flying cars? Actually, yes. According to media reports, Geely agreed to buy U.S.-based startup Terrafugia, which claims to have developed the world's first practical flying car, called Transition.