A new startup in electric vehicles is breaking into California. They make bold claims and tease pie-in the-sky ideas, while keeping their founder and origin story under wraps.
This is a familiar story, and it has been repeated many times over the past half-decade. IndiEV is the company behind this story. It has a prototype electric car called Indi One, and it claims it will be available for sale starting at $45,000. The car will go on sale at the end 2022.
The script is essentially the same. IndiEV plans to power the Indi One using a scalable lithium battery pack (that can also be modified to fit other models or future vehicles); it wants to make use of the more spacious interior of electric vehicles. It blends futuristic exterior and minimalist interior.
A bold design and some funny ideas
IndiEV is a bit different than that. It promises that the top-tier Indi One will have the first car to be equipped with an integrated supercomputer. This will allow for all kinds of entertainment and gaming applications, just like Tesla's Model S.
IndiEV explained that the supercomputer is a customized Windows PC with an i7 CPU and an Nvidia RTX2080 graphic card. This is not the best hardware available, and it's certainly not a package that can be considered a supercomputer.
One of IndiEVs' marketing representatives stated during a Zoom briefing, that the company hopes that the dedicated rig will power any triple A game, any virtual reality, or augmented reality game. They also showed a prototype that was hand-built and had two touchscreens (15 inches) on the dash, one for the Linux-based vehicle information system, and illustrations of VR headset-wielding people driving around in the backseat.
Reps from the company spoke of other uses for the cameras, such as filming interior and exterior drives, editing the footage, and uploading it to you guessed, the cars 5G modem. IndiEVs claims that a team of 65 people created an engineering challenge by mounting the supercomputer under the car's front hood. It is housed in a smaller housing, which will be able to withstand extreme temperature changes and vibrations.
Yes, it has 5G
IndiEV claimed that the prototype car it showed me was a working prototype. It also said that a South Korean supplier had already made 12 prototype bodies in-white (the steel structure which sits on top) for the IndiOne. IndiEV did not name its suppliers. However, ImportYeti data shows that at least one body-in-white was delivered to the US by a South Korean company called Merit Inc.. It also received an electric motor from China's Jing-Jin Electric and batteries from Eve Energy.
What exactly has funded all of these efforts over the past four years? John Kennedy, IndiEVs head, declined to answer. According to court documents and state filings, the startup was founded in part by Shi Hai, a Chinese mobile game entrepreneur who established Snail Games about a decade ago.
Shi may not be front and center because of the lawsuits against him and his ventures for racist behavior, poor treatment employees and, in one instance, wrongful termination.
David Runyan, the US division head of Snail Games, sued Shi and the company in 2014. He claimed that the founder had made discriminatory comments and discriminated against non-Chinese employees. In his complaint, he also stated that Shi Hai's work was extremely difficult because he was volatile and would make snap judgments.
IndiEV did not want to discuss how it was funded
In 2019, Shawn VanAmburg, IndiEVs' then-head supply chain, sued Shi and other founding executives for similar claims. According to the complaint, Shi told VanAmburg that she had to fire her male subordinates in order to hire Chinese women. This was because Chinese women are more likely to shop and to be better negotiators. VanAmburg also claimed that IndiEVs Los Angeles, CA facility had committed safety violations. Arbitration was the final outcome of her case.
In 2019, Meng Hua Lee, a woman, sued Snail Games and Shi. In her complaint, she stated that she was a gopher for Shi, his wife, and Ying Zhou who was also the CFO of Snail Games. Meng claimed she was technically employed by the gaming company, but that she worked longer hours driving Shi, Ying, and their children to work. She also picked up dry cleaning and returned luxury items for them. Meng said she was available 24 hours per day.
Meng was allegedly asked to perform many of these tasks on behalf of another executive at a telecommunications firm affiliated with Snail Games. This was in addition to her work for Shi Ying. Meng claimed that Snail Games refused to pay her for overtime work she thought should be covered. Meng claimed that Shi treated her in a hostile, disparaging way. She even told her not to have any children as she would be dedicating her entire life to him.
In lawsuits, the founder was accused of poor behavior.
Meng began submitting time cards in 2019 for what she believed to be unpaid wages. She was fired by email in June 2019, just after dropping off Shi at Los Angeles International Airport. According to reports, the two sides are still trying to reach a settlement.
The spokesperson for the company stated that these lawsuits were all frivolous and have been resolved.
It is still unclear how IndiEV was originally formed. Shi was not the only employee. Miles Bernal, a Faraday Future former human resource manager, and Shi were also among the first employees. Miles Bernal is the man who claimed in his own suit that he had managed operations at the Faraday Future founder Jia Yaeting's mansions on the Pacific Ocean.
IndiEV, for what it's worth, is now at least trying to engage the public about its activities, in contrast to Alpha Motors, a California EV startup that has not done anything to prove that its not a joke or scam. Like many other EV startups that have emerged from California over the past few years, IndiEV will likely face a difficult road ahead.