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Chinese billionaire hires former Infiniti executive to make cars

[BEIJING] Jia Yueting, billionaire founder of Leshi Internet Information & Technology (Beijing) Co, hired the former managing director of Infiniti's China business to head the Web-enabled TV maker's expansion into electric vehicles.

The executive, Allen Lu, had worked at Ferrari SpA before joining Nissan Motor Co's luxury unit Infiniti in 2010. He will be in charge of Leshi's vehicle business in China and report directly to Mr Jia, according to the company.

The Leshi founder is the latest billionaire to express interest in manufacturing electric vehicles in China, which is supporting the development of alternative-energy automobiles to contain air pollution and reduce the country's reliance on imported energy. Tesla Motors Inc.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, Wanxiang Group Corp Chairman Lu Guanqiu and Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Terry Gou have also announced plans to produce EVs in China.

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Mr Lu said he decided to join Leshi because he shared Mr Jia's dream of building a Chinese branded "super vehicle." The future of automobiles also lies in alternative energy and connectivity, he said at a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

Most of Leshi's senior management had voted against the plan to go into vehicle manufacturing because of concerns that the high risks may potentially crush Leshi's entire business, Mr Jia said in a memo to employees on Jan 4, which the company provided to Bloomberg News.

Even though his plan to make cars may fail, it will spur more companies to join the business and lead to more changes in the industry, Mr Jia wrote in the memo.

China is proposing to grant auto manufacturing licenses to companies other than carmakers to encourage innovation and create local challengers to Tesla. Leshi will bank on its experience "managing disruptive change" to create its electric car, Mr Jia said in December.

Beijing-based Leshi was founded in 2004 and staged its initial public offering in 2010 in Shenzhen. Leshi has a larger market value than Youku Tudou Inc, the New York-traded Internet TV company, and Mr Jia's 44 per cent stake is worth about US$3 billion at current market prices.

Leshi plans to make electric cars using "indigenous intellectual property" and sell the vehicles globally, He Yi, head of the company's vehicle connectivity business, said at the briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, without elaborating.