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Top BMW electric vehicle engineers defect to Chinese rival backed by Tencent

An upstart electric car company backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent has reportedly snared at least four high-ranking executives from BMW i, the German marque's impressive but struggling electric mobility unit.

The Chinese company, Future Mobility Corp., struck first blood last month with the hiring of longtime BMW employee Carsten Breitfeld as its CEO. Breitfeld was responsible for development of the universally-acclaimed i8, according to the Wall Street Journal.

He was joined this month by powertrain engineer Dirk Abendroth, design chief Beonoit Jacob, and product management lead Henrik Wenders.

The departures are a significant blow for BMW, which is having difficulty breaking into the nascent all-electric market. Elon Musk's Tesla Motors is a formidable foe in the strata BMW usually targets, and new competitors are emerging seemingly each day.

It may also be a blow to Apple's own rumored electric car ambitions, as the company is thought to have considered a partnership with BMW i. Earlier this week, it was revealed that the iPhone maker has already spun up a secret Berlin-based development facility for the project.

There is no word on why Tencent was able to convince senior BMW officials to defect, but one source suggests that they may have been frustrated with the Bavarian company's slow progress on new models; no significant upgrades are expected before 2020.

"That's too long for young people who want to change the world," the source told the paper.