Chinese auto billionaire invests in supersonic trains

The chairman of Volvo and Geely has signed a deal with a Chinese aerospace firm to build a new ultra-high-speed transportation network

Li Shufu, chairman of Geely speaks during the opening ceremony of the 2018 China International Energy-Saving and New Energy Vehicles Exhibition

Li Shufu, Chinese billionaire and president of automotive manufacturer Geely, has signed an agreement with a state-owned construction firm to jointly build a new class of supersonic train.

Li’s auto firm, Geely, struck a deal on November 6 with China Aerospace Science and Industry (CASIC) to “pool their capabilities” and develop next-generation vehicles and mobility technology.

According to a statement by Geely, the new trains will achieve “hypersonic” speeds through a combination of magnetic levitation to eliminate ground friction and vacuum tubes to reduce air resistance.

The alliance represents a significant diversification for Li, who built his fortune in the automotive industry

“Technologies developed through the realisation of supersonic trains will help Geely holding advance the fields of new energy vehicles, automotive safety, and new material science,” said the statement.

Speaking at the 2018 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition on November 6, Li said: “Core technology can’t be bought. The more you use others’ technology, the more reliant you become.”

He added: “We have to innovate on our own. The journey will be tough but the prospects are promising.”

Geely’s new partner, CASIC, has already announced its ambitious plans regarding supersonic technology. The company said last year that it was working on a rail shuttle system that could achieve speeds of 1,000km/h, with an aim to reach 4,000km/h in the future.

The alliance represents a significant diversification for Li, who built his fortune in the automotive industry. He founded carmaker Geely in 1986, building it up to be a multi-billion-dollar firm that now operates across China, Europe, the Middle East, Korea, Africa and Central and South America. As of June 2018, the company reported sales of $13.8bn.

Li purchased Volvo Cars from American manufacturer Ford in 2010 in a deal worth $1.8bn, and in March this year acquired a $9bn stake in Daimler, equating to almost a 10 percent stake in the German automaker.

Alongside his foray into supersonic train construction, Li has also expanded his portfolio in other areas, from satellites to microchips and even airborne personal transportation. In 2017, his holding company bought Terrafugia, a concept vehicle maker that is aiming to bring a flying car to market by 2019.

No details regarding the value or timeframe of the Geely-CASIC deal have yet been given.