SHANGHAI — As dark clouds hovered over the U.S. auto industry in 2007, Huang Ximing left his Detroit employer, Ford Motor Co., to try his luck in his native country, China, where the auto market was booming.
Two Chinese automakers, SAIC Motor Corp. and Chery Automobile Co., had offered him senior executive positions, but shortly after his plane landed in Shanghai, he changed his mind. He would start his own engineering firm there instead. That venture led to Huang's decision in 2016 to create an electric vehicle company, Bordrin Motor Corp.
Dozens of EV startups have sprung up in China in recent years. But Huang believes his experience in the U.S. auto industry and the capabilities of his global team give Bordrin a good shot at taking on the world's established leaders.
"Ford is like a training school where I learned a lot," Huang said in an interview in Bordrin's Shanghai office, recalling his work in computer-aided engineering and in noise-vibration harshness on projects such as the Ford Ranger pickup.
He also worked for two years at General Motors. "I had to take care of the whole process, from vehicle prototype development down to fixing problems detected after production," he said.
He has gotten up and running quickly. The startup has a team of more than 600 people, with operations in Shanghai, Beijing and Oak Park, Mich., outside Detroit. The tech center there employs about 90 engineers developing chassis, body structure and ADAS systems.
Investors including institutions, businesses and government-backed fund management companies have supported him in a few rounds of fundraising since 2016. He declines to identify them or specify how much he has raised. But Huang said Bordrin is not seeking additional capital at the moment. He plans to wait until Bordrin advances.
"As it makes further progress in product development, our company will get increasingly higher valuations," he said.
Bordrin's first EV platform is in the subcompact B class, and Huang believes it will be competitive with rival global brands.
He says it will be able to drive up to 550 kilometers (341 miles) on one charge — an advance over current vehicles in the field.
"Drivers won't be relieved of range anxiety unless electric vehicles exceed 500 km in range," he said.
Bordrin's first EV will be shown at the Shanghai auto show in April, and Huang says it will have a sticker price of about $32,000. He anticipates landing in the market on equal footing with the Tesla Model 3.
When it comes to developing the Chinese market, the U.S.-trained engineer realizes that local consumers are fervent users of Internet technology, and he is determined to outperform larger global competitors on infotainment and vehicle connectivity offerings.
- 1990: Enters the U.S. from China to obtain a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech
- 1995: Joins Ford as a computer-aided engineering specialist
- 1998: Moves to General Motors
- 1999: Returns to Ford in product development
- 2007: Leaves Ford to return to China, opens an engineering firm in Shanghai
- 2016: Gathers investors to create Bordrin to produce electric vehicles
- 2018: Employs 600 in Detroit, Shanghai and Beijing
Meanwhile, Bordrin is looking beyond China. It has held preliminary talks with a group of European car dealers.
A Bordrin executive also met in Germany with fleet operators, who expressed interest in the new line.
But the U.S. market is different, Huang said. Conditions aren't right for his company to operate there, he says, adding that the United States has yet to set unified standards for EV battery charging.
He also recognizes — having started his career in Detroit — that the American market is a tough nut to crack.
"Unless one is 100 percent sure that he is ready, he should not rashly get into the U.S. market," he said.
A Bordrin factory is under construction in Nanjing, China, with financial support from the local government, and is scheduled to start production in 2020 with initial annual capacity of 100,000 vehicles.
But the EV startup is moving ahead before then. The company's first EV will be built at a plant owned by state-owned automaker China FAW Group Corp. in China's northeast Jilin province. That plant also will build Bordrin's second model, a smaller A-class electric hatchback from the same platform, and will have a battery range of nearly 500 kilmeters (310 miles), according to the company.
Bordrin's third product will come from a platform for C-class compact EVs with ranges topping 600 km (372 miles) and be produced at the Nanjing plant.
Key suppliers include Bosch for ADAS components, safety systems from Autoliv, and electric motors and control systems from Continental, Huang said.
China is the world's largest EV market, and thanks to government subsidies the number of EV startups in the country continues to increase. The players are mainly domestic companies, but global automakers such as Nissan Motor Co. also have started introducing EVs. Tesla just signed an agreement with the Shanghai municipal government to produce its vehicles locally.
With global players expanding their presence in the Chinese EV market, it wouldn't be surprising if "90 percent" of EV startups in China succumb to competition, Huang predicted. In the long term, he believes, only three to five will survive.
Said Huang: "Bordrin will be one of them."