Famed business executive and tech powerhouse Padmasree Warrior is getting into the electric car game. After leaving her post as CTO and strategy head of Cisco Systems in September, Warrior announced on Wednesday that she will be joining electric vehicle startup NextEV as its U.S. CEO and head of global development.
Warrior spoke with Fast Company about the move, NextEV’s potential rivalry with Elon Musk’s Tesla, and the future of the electric car.
Fast Company: How did you get involved with NextEV?
Padmasree Warrior: I left Cisco and I was trying to decide what to do. I wanted to pick an area where we could apply technology to solve some big problems. I was also looking for things that had a global impact. I was introduced to the founder of NextEV–his name is William Li–through a common associate of ours, and William happened to be in the Bay Area one weekend. I had breakfast with him and we got to talking, and I was really inspired by the vision and the mission for the company–and I decided to join them.
What are you hoping to accomplish in the next few months? What’s first on your docket?
First on my docket is to start building a team in the U.S. headquarters, where we are based in San Jose. So we are aggressively recruiting, very focused on picking the best talent in software and AI and robotics, data sciences. Secondly, we’ll conceptualize and design the product and then build it.
Could you talk a little bit about the building of the “Supercar”?
The company is about a year old. It was started at end of 2014 and has about 400 people, most based in Shanghai, and we have a design house in Munich. The company so far has built a formula e-certified race car as well. We’ll be targeting what we call a supercar with very high performance targets to be in production at the end of 2016. And the intent with that car is primarily to check out the performance, assess the technology, and reuse a lot of that in the mass-market vehicle that will be following it.
What are you most excited about working with NextEV?
A couple of things excite me a lot. First of all, I really believe transportation and the automative industry is about to go through a major shift. It’s not just a technology-driven shift, but actually given the fact that we all live in the mobile Internet era, how can we envision a new mode of transportation, new vehicles, while leveraging all the tech advances that have happened on mobile and the Internet? How can we bring it into automotive as a platform and think about it as a technology platform, not just a physical car? That’s a big opportunity, to really be using all of my knowledge from the tech industry to change a new vertical is super exciting to me.
The second thing I find exciting is, I think this is one of the first times a startup is being built from the ground up in China, the U.S., and Europe simultaneously. Leveraging competencies from each of the areas, and also the diversity and inclusion in thought from different parts of the world–that’s super exciting. It’s actually taking globalization to the next level.
What do you think about NextEV as a competitor of Tesla and Elon Musk? Have you met with Elon before?
Yes, I have met Elon. I currently have a Tesla Model S. I have a lot of respect for Elon and Tesla and give them a lot of credit for bringing the EV to the front and center of mainstream consumers. Having said that, I think the market is huge, it’ll be a big enough market for many winners in this market. Our vision is not just to build an electric vehicle, it’s really to think about the entire automotive industry vertical and really rethink that industry using, If you were to build an automotive company in the Internet era, what would it look like? That’s the challenge that we are setting ourselves up for.