In June 2016 the Chinese authorities embarked on a program to regulate the industry that saw over 200 companies planning to produce over 50 million cars a year. Initially, the Chinese Government announced that it would only provide ten manufacturers with permits to produce electric vehicles in a bid to ensure quality and reliability to the consumer. A year later, at the end of May 2017, 14 new energy vehicle manufacturers were awarded production certificates to develop electric vehicles, with no indication what the new limit on participants is. China leads the world in terms of the size of the electric vehicle market; one would expect that it would lead to the creation of great looking automobiles, the opposite has been the norm.
China’s electric car sector is known for its ugly models, most are either bad clones of other brands, such as the Tesla Model S clone the Youxia Ranger X, or old body types of Japanese or European models with a battery thrown in, such as the 2012 Suzuki SX4 rebadged as the 2017 SD EV Yinse. Currently, most Chinese vehicle manufacturers are bringing mid-to-low end models to production, competing with Western models such as the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt, Renault Zoe and the Nissan Leaf. A couple of Chinese manufacturers are following the Tesla model of starting with a luxury sedan or sports car and will, therefore, compete with the likes of the Rimac Concept One, Tesla Modle S or Porsche Mission-E.
Many Chinese automakers have addressed design challenges by opening design centers in Europe, mostly in Italy, world-renowned for design, especially automotive design. Some Chinese automakers own established Western brands such as Geely owning Volvo, SAIC Roewe buying MG, NEVS buying SAAB and Wanxiang buying Karma Automotive. One might, therefore, be forgiven to expect that world class design principles would find its way into Chinese electric vehicle production. Unfortunately, the fusion between Western and Chinese design has yet to deliver eye-catching electric vehicles.
Authorized EV brands in China
With the greater oversight, one would have hoped to be wowed with only the best electric vehicles rising to the top and receiving the coveted production permits. Let’s look at the current Chinese automakers that have been granted production certificates and see what the Chinese consumer and the rest of the world can expect.
The Chinese Government owned BAIC is one of the top selling EV brands in China and is now into its second generation EV design with the BAIC E200, BAIC EC180, and BAIC EU260. BAIC has also created a stand-alone company for electric vehicles, BJEV and is expected to bring a new brand to light, called Arcfox. Unfortunately, BAIC’s design still looks very much like copies of other brands, take for instance the BAIC EU260 which looks very much like an older Mercedes C-Series.
Changjiang EV produces the eCool EV, also know as the FDG Yangtze EV. The company classifies the eCool as a mini-SIV, but in all honesty, it looks more like a hatchback. The eCool comes with 10-inch multi-touch HD screen providing an onboard interconnected experience and a mobile terminal. The vehicle achieved a 4-star C-NCAP measured at 50km/h impact. The hatchback comes in various funky colors, and customers can personalize their dash and seat covers, not that is does anything for the general look of the EV.
CH-Auto Technology founded in 2010, the Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer branded as Qiantu Qiche (前途汽车), meaning Future Auto in 2015. Qiantu aims to compete head-on with Tesla and unveiled the Qiantu K50 Event! as the first model in its arsenal to do so ( for all the language buffs, the ! is not a typo but part of the name). The K50 Event! is one of the more appealing Chinese EVs.
Chery Auto was honored with “Best Globalization Strategy for the year 2015” among Chinese Vehicle manufacturers. Chery is a leader in the EV sector with one of the first production cars as far back as 2008.The Chery QQ, first produced in 2015, remains one of the top 10 models in China. The QQ might be popular, but it is certainly not for its looks.
The company was founded in 2011 and opened the Jiangsu MIN’AN Automotive Research Institute in October 2015 where it develops its new energy vehicles. Min’an Auto is set to unveil its first EV in 2018. Min’an has the intent to develop three models in 2018, an SUV, rendered below, a sportscar and a neighborhood electric (NEV) delivery van. Min’an suffers from the same classification issues as Changjiang EV, trying to sell a hatchback as an SUV.
Wanxiang Group (Karma Automotive)
Owned by Chinese auto parts company Wanxiang Group, who bought the remnants of Fisker Automotive in 2013. The company aims to manufacturer 900 Karma Revero’s in 2017. Waxiang Group was one of the first automakers to receive a production certificate allowing it to produce electric vehicles in 2016. The Karma Revero teaser below was released late 2016 and does not look a lot different than the Fisker Karma of 2012.
JMC created a new company to house its electric vehicle unit under in early 2015. The plant situated in Nanchang City has a planned production capacity of 70,000 units per year by 2020. JMC EV is planning to follow up on its first electric vehicle the E100 EV with four new models, the E200, E160, and E170. Th JMC E100 is one of the top 20 sellers in China. Both the E100 and E200 looks quite similar and follows the same boring lines as most of the small electric vehicles such as the Chery QQ and eCool above.
The Sokon owned company received its production certificate early 2017 which allows the company to produce 50,000 EVs annually. The company has not unveiled any vehicles but have secured Tesla Co-founder, Martin Eberhard, as a consultant and acquired US based AC Propulsion at the end of 2016. Sokon developed small commercial vehicles in partnership with Dongfeng.
National Electric Vehicles Sweden (NEVS), a Chinese-owned company, acquired the SAAB brand from bankruptcy in 2012. The company received a production permit for 200,000 units annually. The company has already signed an agreement to supply 20,000 SAAB 9-3 to Chinese Aerospace entity, Volinco. Disappointingly it seems that consumers will have to be content with getting another relic from the past as an option when it comes to buying a new EV in China.
Yudo Auto electric vehicles strategy is to produce affordable pure electric SUVs and aims to be a first-class brand in 5 years and international presence in 10 years. Yudo chose the words “creating for change” as its tagline and opened a Design Center in Milan, Italy. The company unveiled two small SUVs at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2017 as part of its Gemini strategy. The Yudo Pi1 base model looks like a bad knockoff of the VW Tiguan, and the flagship Yudo Pi3 reminds of a Landrover Freelander of the 90’s. Let’s hope there is more “creating for change” down the line.
Know Beans, a Geely company, and yes that’s the brand’s name, develops the popular ZD D2 mini-car which is also sold under the Zotye label as the Zotye E20. The D2, produced since 205, is also a top 20 electric vehicle in China. You just know, when you look at the D2, that it hails from China. I don’t know what is worse, the brand name or the vehicle, enough said.
Henan Suda EV, also know as SD EV received permission to develop a 100,000 EV plant. SD EV offers one of this ‘Back to the Future’ opportunities, where you can buy a vehicle from 2012 as a brand new model in 2017. SD EV has two EV models ready for production. The vehicles are based on Suzuki SX4 sedan and hatch. The word Suda means to ‘Speed Up’ in Chinese while the Henan refers to the company’s home province.
Hozon received an electric vehicle production certificate allowing it to produce 50,000 units per annum. Hozon unveiled its first concept vehicle, a compact crossover named @, at the 3rd World Internet Conference in November 2016. The Hozon logo looks surprisingly similar than that of Mercedes, and the rendering in the marketing material looks like that of an old generation Buick Lacrosse, while the @ like a Tesla Model X.
GreenWheel received approval to develop a 50,000 unit plant. The company is better known for developing Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV). Now that GreenWheel has qualified for EV production it aims to start production of the small crossover, named the V5, which is an electric version of the Weichai Enranger G3.
For too long the stereotype Chinese manufacturer has been known for copying rather than innovating. It is therefore disappointing to see that most of the authorized EV producers are still developing cars based on old combustion vehicles. The failure of the permitting process to identify and authorize truly innovative companies to ensure a sustainable and dominant Chinese EV sector will be negative for the whole EV sector, we need companies such as Tesla, testing the boundaries set by traditional auto manufacturers.
At the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I would love to hear your comments on the state of China’s electric vehicle design in the comment section below.
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