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State-owned China automaker teams with U.S. electric-car startup Atieva

An employee works on the Beiqi E150EV car assembly line of Beijing Electric Vehicle Company, in Beijing November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - One of China's largest state-owned automakers said Thursday it has opened a technology research center in California's Silicon Valley and is teaming with U.S. electric-car startup Atieva to develop EVs for China and global markets.

Beijing Electric Vehicle Co, an affiliate of government-owned BAIC Motor Corp Ltd (1958.HK), said its new tech center outside San Francisco will focus on development of EVs and eventually self-driving cars.

BAIC follows another large state-owned Chinese automaker, SAIC Motor Corp <600104.SS>, which also is setting up a research facility in Silicon Valley and is developing electric and self-driving cars.

Atieva is one of several startups in China and the United States focused on building electric cars to rival those of Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O).

BAIC's research center, which initially will house 20 employees, is located in Fremont, near the assembly plant where Tesla builds the Model S electric car.

BAIC, which said it will become Atieva's largest shareholder, will jointly develop an electric car with its U.S. partner, to be unveiled next spring at the Beijing auto show.

Co-founded in 2007 by former Tesla executive Bernard Tse, Atieva, based in Menlo Park near Stanford University, is one of several startups developing electric vehicles with funding from Chinese investors.

Shanghai-based NextEV in late August told Reuters that it is developing a prospective Tesla competitor, with backing from Chinese internet entrepreneurs. NextEV has several global research facilities, including one in Silicon Valley.

A third startup, Faraday Future, in July said it is developing an electric car that also could challenge Tesla. FF, as it is called, is based in Gardena, outside Los Angeles, and is said to be funded in part by Chinese tech entrepreneur Jia Yueting.

Both Atieva and Faraday have hired a number of former Tesla employees.

Driven down this year by low fuel prices and ample petroleum supplies, demand for pure electric vehicles in the U.S. and China - the two largest global markets - continues to lag well behind industry and government forecasts. An estimated 27,000 EVs were sold in China in the first six months, with an estimated 29,000 sold in the U.S.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Alan Crosby)