The opening day of the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt was a good one for Wellen Sham from China.
“I’ve been feeling pretty gloomy these last three months,” said the 63-year-old entrepreneur. He had begun to doubt his idea of facing off with the American pioneer Tesla with an electric car.
Banks had threatened to cut off his financing and he had to inject several millions from his private fortune into his firm. “But at the start of the IAA, we were highly praised – even by the critical Germans,” he said.
Mr. Sham worked for four years on the car himself before reorganizing his company Thunder Power around the new product four years ago. Previously, the company had produced drills and other equipment for Western customers, including Bosch.
“We are developing a new technology that is able to blend carbon fiber, aluminium and steel,” Mr. Sham told Top Gear website. The entrepreneur designed the Thunder Power’s chassis himself, as well as the battery pack and the motor.
He has chosen a risky path but believes it will pay off, saying he thinks this is the most auspicious time to enter the field of car manufacturing.
The automotive industry is undergoing its most profound transformation in a century. The shift from conventional to electric motors and the digitization of vehicles are opening up opportunities for new providers. Technology firms such as Apple, Google and Baidu are elbowing their way into this market worth billions. At the same time, firms such as Tesla and Thunder Power are pinning their hopes on electric motors.
At the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, the focus is on electromobility and networked cars. The newcomers are maintaining a low profile – Google didn’t even set up a stand but rather opted to send its representatives to panel discussions.
Video: Thunder Power at the Frankfurt motor show.
On Tuesday evening, Google’s representative in Germany, Philipp Justus, sat onstage with Volkmar Denner, the chief executive officer of Bosch. Mr. Justus was careful not to ruffle any feathers. Concerning the controversial issue of data ownership, he emphasized that users should have control over their personal data. But up to now, the American company hasn’t granted its users much in the way of privacy, since it earns its money by making commercial use of that data.
For this reason, automotive companies are only willing to grant Google limited access to their vehicles. Mr. Justus was able to lessen some of the automotive companies’ concerns, saying, “Google doesn’t intend to become a car maker.” His company wants to partner with automotive companies. After Google hired the former head of Hyundai’s American operations, John Krafcik, at the beginning of the week, rumors about a Google car had been reignited.
While the U.S. tech giants are looking for a foothold through their Internet solutions, Thunder Power is attacking with hardware. Yet, the striking car is currently little more than a dream.
“Series production is scheduled to begin in 2018,” said Mr. Sham. “We want to build a factory in China with a capacity for 100,000 units, and one in Europe with a capacity of between 5,000 and 10,000.” The latter plant could be situated in Germany, “where the technological heart of the industry beats,” Mr. Sham said.
Martin Murphy is an automotive correspondent for Handelsblatt. To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org