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Geely Is Launching Satellites in a Bid to Bring Driverless Cars to China

The Chinese auto giant, which owns Volvo and Lotus, is following Tesla’s road map to transmit data for autonomous vehicles.

A Chinese rocket launches with a cargo of Geely-made satellites on June 2.

A Chinese rocket launches with a cargo of Geely-made satellites on June 2.

Photographer: Li Xiaomeng/Getty Images
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More than any other Chinese billionaire, Li Shufu has global ambitions. While many of his peers have focused on China’s huge domestic market, Li’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. has spent the past decade accumulating a portfolio of foreign car brands from Volvo Car to Group Lotus and London Taxi. The 59-year-old billionaire also owns almost 10% of Mercedes Benz Group AG, and Geely in May agreed to buy a 34% stake in Renault SA’s Korean unit.

Now Li has set his sights even farther away, into outer space. Following a trail blazed by Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, whose SpaceX has deployed a network of about 2,500 communications satellites that can provide internet connectivity, Geely is moving beyond cars to build a presence in low-Earth orbit. In early June, a Chinese rocket carried nine Geely-made satellites into space, where the company hopes they will form the backbone of a network designed to one day connect with Geely’s self-driving vehicles.