Affordable Chinese urban EVs on the up

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Popularity of inexpensive electric models hints at changing driving habits.

While China emerged from a pandemic-ravaged 2020 stronger than most, one of the few blips was a relatively modest 8% year-on-year growth in electric vehicle registrations. A total of 1.3 million was not bad given the challenges – 41 per cent of the global total, according to analysts Canalys – but it’s pretty muted against the worldwide growth rate of 39%.

It matters because China, with 30 per cent of all car sales of any kind in 2020, has a critical role in driving EV uptake and providing car makers with a return on their investment.

China’s pre-eminence is down to its leaders having long planned to pounce on electrifi cation, largely motivated by the chance to wean off a reliance on imported oil. However, slipping behind Europe (42 per cent market share of all EV sales) was not on the agenda. A growth rate of 50 per cent is expected this year, taking the EV market share in the region closer to 10 per cent. For comparison, EVs accounted for 4.2 per cent of all 2020 global registrations.

Clues as to where further growth will come from in China are evident in last year’s sales fi gures, where there were only two standout performers. Early in the year, the locally built Tesla Model 3 dominated sales. This year, more growth is expected to follow the launch of the domestically built Model Y.

But the real star was the Hongguang Mini EV, which was launched mid-year and has kick-started a trend for small, affordable urban EVs that is set to transform the market, supersizing sales fi rst in the mega-cities of Shanghai and Beijing and then the other 685 cities around which so much of Chinese life now revolves.

A joint production by SAIC, Wuling and General Motors, the Hongguang’s standout feature is its $5800 price, despite having a battery with a range of more than 160km, a top speed of 100km/h and room – just – for four people.

Anti-lock brakes and tyre pressure monitors are standard, and if you push your budget closer to $7300, rear parking sensors and air-con feature. Locals have embraced it as a cool take on modern motoring and sales have boomed into 2021.

The signifi cance is twofold. First, the trend is here to stay. Expect to hear more on the Baojun E-Series and Ora R1, the world’s cheapest EV, in the coming months. Compact but capable EVs are set to change cityscapes rapidly.

Second, exports to other countries begin soon, with Europe and the US on the agenda. You might look at it and laugh, but expect pressure to grow to mandate uptake in big cities the world over as concerns over congestion and pollution continue to rise.

Jim Holder

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