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September 15, 2015

Exclusive: Chinese Tesla rival, NextEV, coming to north San Jose

Silicon Valley Business Journal

Nathan Donato-Weinstein

Say "electric cars" in Silicon Valley, and you'll conjure visions of Tesla Motors Inc.'s factory in Fremont and a sleek Model S. But a big investment from an ambitious Chinese electric-vehicle startup is about to put San Jose on the map, too.

NextEV, a Chinese electric-vehicle startup, has chosen north San Jose for a major research-and-development center as it works toward a mass-market battery-powered car that could be rolling off assembly lines by 2017.

"The battery-electric vehicles to date have been prevalent at the top of the market because of the price of the battery pack," said Chris Ricci, general counsel for NextEV, in an interview. "We have plans to bring that down for the average consumer."

The company, backed by a consortium of China-based Internet companies and financiers, is aiming for nothing less than a new global brand: "Our family of smart, outperforming electric vehicles will re-define the entire user-experience - and deliver enjoyment beyond expectation," reads the copy on NextEV's recruiting website.

NextEV has already hired some big names in the auto industry, including Martin Leach, a former CEO of Maserati and president of Ford Europe; veterans of Tesla and BMW have also come over, according to Reuters. Big-money backing includes Internet portal Tencent and investment group Hillhouse Capital, along with a slate of Chinese entrepreneurs.

"It's a cabal of some of the top innovators in China who are investing in this vehicle," said Skip Whitney, a partner with Kidder Mathews who heads up the brokerage's China Services Group. "It's the right thing to do at the right time."

The company is establishing outposts all over the world, with manufacturing in China and design in Munich. In San Jose, NextEV last week leased 3200 North First Street. The 85,000-square-foot building will serve as a hub focused on "connected car" research and energy technologies, among other things. Kidder Mathews' Whitney and Eric Bluestein and Rodney Moreschini represented NextEV; CBRE's Christian Marent and Bob Steinbock represented building owner KBS.

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