SHANGHAI — Until recently, Li Shufu, chairman of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, seemed determined to build a global automotive empire.
Now it appears that's only part of the story.
It turns out Li's mission is to expand Geely's reach beyond the auto industry to provide mobility services in areas few others would dream of.
At an international air show this month in the south China city of Zhuhai, Geely struck a partnership deal with China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., a state-owned developer of spaceships, satellites and missiles.
The partners want to develop high-speed trains using magnetic suspension technology that would travel in a near-vacuum tube at more than 600 mph.
The alliance also plans to launch low-orbit satellites with the goal of building "a three-dimensional digital transport network for maritime, land and air transportation," Geely said in a statement after signing the deal with China Aerospace.
Such plans may sound like fantasy. But when the mastermind is Li Shufu, a 2018 Automotive News All Star (see Page 32), they shouldn't be dismissed.
Li has proved to be an effective and visionary leader in the auto industry.
He has achieved stunning business success in transforming Geely from a little-known motorcycle manufacturer into the largest and most profitable Chinese carmaker.
Geely, which started producing cars in 1997, is the third-largest passenger vehicle maker in China, behind Volkswagen Group and General Motors. The company's first-half net income surged 54 percent to 6.7 billion yuan ($967 million).
Li has engineered an impressive turnaround at Volvo Cars after buying the Swedish brand from Ford Motor Co. in 2010.
He is now making solid progress in reviving two venerable U.K. brands acquired over the past few years — London Taxi and Lotus, an engineering and sports car specialist.
Moreover, with Li at the helm, Geely has taken steps to strengthen its role as a mobility service provider.
It bought flying-car developer Terrafugia in 2017, and the Woburn, Mass., company is set to deliver its first product, a two-seat small aircraft, in the U.S. next year.
In June, Geely formed a three-way partnership with Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings and state-owned China Railway Corp. to provide Internet-based services such as ride-hailing for rail passengers.
And last month, Geely established a joint venture with Daimler to provide ride-hailing services in China after Li acquired a nearly 10 percent stake in the German giant.
Li is an accomplished leader and a skillful deal-maker in the auto industry. It will be intriguing to see what steps he takes to lead Geely toward a lofty goal of becoming a digital transport service provider across multiple industries.