Step aside, Tesla: Aston Martin is developing an all-electric sports car

The British luxury car manufacturer announced its intention to partner with Chinese company LeEco to create an electric version of its Rapide S model. 

Salome Roessler/Images for Aston Martin/AP
A close-up view of Aston Martin's RapidE concept vehicle, following the announcement of a joint venture between Aston Martin and LeEco on Wednesday in Frankfurt, central Germany.

Aston Martin will announced today that it will partner with the Chinese electronics company LeEco to create its first electric car.

The luxury car manufacturer, founded over a century ago, was catapulted into stardom by the James Bond films, which featured the famous agent’s luxury ride: an Aston Martin Silver Birch DB5.

The new "RapidE," an all-electric version of Aston Martin’s existing Rapide S model sports car, will be cruising through the countryside by 2018, the company announced.

The auto company produced a prototype RapidE last fall, but CEO Andy Palmer, speaking to reporters from Frankfurt on Wednesday, said that a partnership with LeEco would speed the production process.  

“We’re on the way to creating a joint venture,” said Mr. Palmer, “it will help (bring) a product for Aston Martin EV quicker to market than we anticipated.”

Although LeEco is primarily a consumer electronics company, it does have a car division – and an enormous fan base.

"In China we have around 300 million people who visit our website. We could advertise the Aston Martin for free,” said LeEco’s Lei Ding.

China is home to a large – and growing – market for electric auto sales. The Chinese government is pushing electric vehicles as part of its commitment to improving air quality and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Aston Martin joins Tesla, Alibaba, BRM, and others in in China’s luxury electric car market.

Although American electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla got off to a shaky start in China, its sales continue to grow. In October, CEO Elon Musk claimed that sales in China might catch up to US sales levels within six years.

Tesla pushed toward high end electric vehicle manufacturing because “it was the easiest way to recoup the costs” of expensive parts such as batteries, says Clifford Atiyeh, an editor at Car and Driver magazine.

Does the luxury electric vehicle market have room for another high-end competitor?

The new Aston Martin could bring consumers environmental benefits along with a maximum speed of over 200 miles an hour. With a 1,000-horsepower engine, Mr. Atiyeh says the RapidE may be “well faster than a Tesla.”

This research and development will produce trickle-down benefits, says Union of Concerned Scientists senior scientist Dr. Jeremy Martin. “Experience shows that technology developed for the luxury market will soon transfer to other market segments as well.”

In addition, “High performance electric vehicles may offer even greater benefits because of the high gasoline consumption of high performance cars,” says Dr. Martin. “The gasoline powered Aston Martins sold in the US get about 15 mpg, while luxury electric vehicles on the market now offer very high performance with much lower energy use.”

Why would the company that manufactures James Bond’s classic car choose to expand into the electric market?

“Aston Martin is trying to expand their model lineup,” speculates Atiyeh. “They’re a very aged platform right now. I think they are going to increase production.”

One of the biggest problems, according to Aston Martin strategy chief Will Farquhar, is how to recreate the famous sports car's sound in an electric vehicle. 

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