11 Jan 16

NEXTEV: “We want to reimagine the vehicle”

The logos of NEXTEV first appeared in Long Beach, where the winning Team China Racing car was sporting an unfamiliar grey and green livery in place of the usual red and yellow.

Soon after it took over the naming rights, and it was for NEXTEV TCR that Nelson Piquet Jr claimed the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship title.

The company has yet to produce a car, but it has the ambitious target of rivaling Tesla in the near future. To demonstrate the extent of its ambitions, last month it hired Padmasree Warrior as its new CEO in the USA. Through her work at Cisco and Motorola, Warrior has built up a reputation as one of the leading players in California’s world-leading tech industry.

Formula E caught up with her to get her views on electric cars and the role that the series is playing in their development.

After leaving your previous role you must have been inundated with new and interesting offers, what made you decide to join NEXTEV?
“I did look at a lot of different opportunities and I ultimately came to the decision that I would either work in the education space or the transportation space. Both of these industries are ripe for disruption. I had an intriguing conversation with NEXTEV founder William Li and quickly decided that this was the right opportunity for me. William is a visionary and I knew that he was building the right team for NEXTEV to be successful. Additionally, as global citizens, we all have to focus on how we can make the world better and I fundamentally believe that electric vehicles will play a large role in helping clean up our environment. This is a big opportunity and one that I am excited about tackling.”

You worked for a long time at Motorola and Cisco, do you see NEXTEV as another long-term project?
“I intend on being at NEXTEV for as long as it takes to become a global electric vehicle leader. We are excited about bringing a joyful mobility experience to all users whether they are the driver or not. NEXTEV is looking to build a vehicle from the ground up that rethinks every aspect of mobility, as well as the associated services. We are moving very fast, but I am in this for the long haul (pun intended).”

With NEXTEV TCR competing in Formula E, how do you think it will help push the development of electric road cars?
“We have to demonstrate that electric cars are as powerful and reliable as combustion engines. Competing in Formula E is important to show that we have the technical experience to build an exciting and reliable vehicle. And, Martin Leach’s leadership and automotive chops are second to none. As I am tasked with building a new vehicle, my first and only choice for a business partner on this project would be Martin Leach.”

When will we see a NEXTEV road car on sale?
“We are currently in development and will be out to the market as soon as the car is ready. However, as fast as we are already moving (I’ve only been an employee since mid-December 2015), I expect that we will shock the world with how quickly we will have a vehicle ready for the market. I would like to be clear that the car will initially be for the Chinese market… we will then expand from there.”

How do you see electric roads car developing over the next five years, and what can/should Formula E be doing to reflect that in its regulations?
“This is a perfect question for Martin Leach. I am focused on delivering the technology for the smart, connected global car.”

Fortune Magazine named you the ‘Queen of the electric car biz’, what does that mean to you and what goals are you setting at NEXTEV?
“That headline made me smile since I see it as a nod of recognition for everything women leaders have accomplished in business and technology, rather than a personal compliment. As a leader at NEXTEV, I hope to build a global team that earns accolades based on how users experience our product. With our goal of becoming a user enterprise, we are designing the product and the experiences from the user out, not from the wheels up. My focus is on recruiting talent in Silicon Valley, who want to work on a super cool project and make a difference to the future of mobility. We are actively looking for talent now and my number one focus right now is building an awesome team.”

You’re a strong advocate of women getting involved in the industry. Becoming CEO of U.S for NEXTEV, do you think this will encourage more women to take a step into this sector?
“If I can be a role model for women anywhere in the world, I would consider it an honour. Fifty percent of the global population are women – and I would love to see the same percentage of women engineers. I think the ‘electric car’ is the next major consumer platform – just like the smart phone transformed into one a few years ago. I am passionate about bringing diverse skills and creative talent together to solve big problems. Diversity in points of view is a good thing as far as I am concerned. The last thing I want is everyone on my team to look the same or think the same. The more diverse our team in terms of gender, race, background, education and so on, the more creatively we can serve our customers.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the electric vehicle market?
“I think it is fair to say that the biggest challenge remains convincing consumers that an EV can be as reliable or more reliable than a gas vehicle. Fear of running out of charge is real, so we need to show that most trips that people take are less than 20 miles, so while range may be important for long trips, it is less critical for daily use. Having said that, NEXTEV is not just a car company… we are a ‘user enterprise’ that is going to focus on all aspects of car ownership. We want to reimagine the vehicle and deliver a joyful experience for users in the mobile internet era.”