Atieva started out in 2007 as a VC-funded battery pack developer with a founder from Tesla and VC funding from Venrock.

But last week, website Charged EV came across Atieva at the SAE World Congress in Detroit -- and the company was actively recruiting engineers for an electric vehicle effort in Silicon Valley. Atieva has openings for more than 30 engineers across the automotive design process, including an "infotainment hardware design engineer."

Recruitment materials include this: "We're redefining what a car can be, by building an iconic vehicle from the ground up," as well as, "We're a car company, not a design house, and we're definitely not a traditional automaker."

A spokesperson from the firm said, "We’re not quite ready to speak publicly about our plans."  

Atieva timeline

  • 2007: Founded as a battery pack developer by Bernard Tse, a former Tesla VP and board member, and Sam Weng, founder of Astoria Networks and former Oracle executive
  • 2007: Initial funding from Venrock and China Environment Fund    
  • 2009: $7 million round B from Beijing’s China Environment Fund III and Venrock Associates
  • 2011: $24 million round C with investment from Mitsui & Co. and JAFCO
  • 2011: Working with lithium-ion cell maker Lishen to build battery packs for electric buses in China
  • 2014: Secured $100 million of a $200 million round from investors. According to reports in the South China Morning Post, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding (BAIC), a state-owned carmaker, acquired a 25 percent stake in Atieva. Reports indicate that Beijing-based online entertainment company Le Shi also invested in Atieva, also noting that Atieva "has done electric-vehicle design and engineering work for Tesla, as well as Audi and General Motors." 

In reports from last year, BAIC was planning to build an EV to compete with the Tesla Model S by the end of 2015.   

VC-funded vehicles have a mixed record; Tesla survives among the wreckage of VC-funded automotive firms such as Fisker, Next Autoworks and Coda Automotive. VC-funded battery companies have yet to yield market leaders. 

An automotive expert points out the "daunting" nature of attempting to build a car when EVs are "serious product offerings from the likes of Tesla, BMW, GM, and potentially Apple."

Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his staff have always claimed to welcome competition to the modern EV landscape. Perhaps Atieva, with the help of deep-pocketed Chinese investors, can provide some of that competition.