China’s best-selling premium EV green lit for export

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Chinese premium brand HiPhi will begin selling in Europe this year, and show its new Y car at the Shanghai motor show.

Fast-moving Chinese premium EV brand HiPhi has confirmed it will kick-start its move into the other markets, including right-hand drive, starting with the HiPhi X after the model passed homologation tests by German firm TÜV SÜD “in record time”.

Set to be HiPhi’s first car on sale on the continent, the X is billed as a coupé crossover with a focus on comfort and technology. It will be followed by the HiPhi Z, a luxury electric grand tourer, and a third model, the HiPhi Y, which will be unveiled at the Shanghai motor show.

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The X will be sold in Europe with a 97kWh battery, offering a claimed range of up to 649km, calculated using the China light-duty vehicle test cycle (CLTC). It uses a dual-motor set-up with a total output of 388kW. HiPhi says it can complete 0-100km/h in 3.9sec.

In China, the X can be selected with a 120kWh battery with 705km of range, but HiPhi has not confirmed if this variant will be offered in markets outside of China.

HiPhi has emphasised the high level of the X’s technology. Inside, it’s equipped with a 17-speaker audio system, a 19.9-inch, passenger-oriented touchscreen infotainment system and a customisable fragrance system. Also included as standard is a series of 8.0-inch touchscreens around the car and “airline-style seats”.

Another standout feature, the firm says, is the inclusion of the “first robotic arm in the industry”, which adjusts the angle of the infotainment screen.

No prices have been revealed for the European market yet, but the X entered production just under two years ago in China, becoming the country’s best-selling premium EV (AUD$110,000-plus) in its first half year on sale.

With the Z to follow the X, HiPhi is now primed to unveil its third production car at the Shanghai motor show. The HiPhi Y, as it’s expected to be called, will open new doors for the four-year-old Shanghai-based company, targeting a lower price point and higher sales volumes – as well as serving as the flagbearer for a global expansion strategy.

Speaking exclusively to Automotive Daily Network Autocar, HiPhi chief technology officer Mark Stanton (previously head of Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicles division) hinted that the third car, based on the same architecture as its range-mates, will be revealed at the Shanghai motor show later this month and will be cheaper than the c$140,000 X and Z.

“Our first two products are both high-end, top-of-the-range cars,” said Stanton, adding that they have “anchored our brand at that premium level” to the point where most of HiPhi’s conquest customers are coming over from Mercedes-Benz.

The HiPhi Z, a rakish, high-riding sedan, arrived on sale at the end of 2022 and looks to steal some of the indomitable Porsche Taycan’s thunder in the German firm’s biggest market.

But in line with a prevailing focus on younger buyers, who are less “sensitive about brand” than older customers of established premium marques, HiPhi will look to diversify its product line with a more volume-friendly EV that brings comparable levels of technology and functionality at a lower price.

“Having established that brand up there at the higher price point and established our technology capabilities and our premium capabilities as well, we will be introducing relatively less expensive cars and more mass-production cars,” confirmed Stanton. He stressed that they won’t be “cheap cars” and won’t be produced in the “millions and millions” but said they will be smaller and more affordable than the X and Z.

“The first two cars are quite large cars, which fit pretty well in China but not necessarily elsewhere around the world,” he said.

Drawing on experience from his time at JLR, Stanton compared HiPhi’s ambitions with that of the Range Rover line-up, noting in particular that the entry-level Evoque has been a “pretty damn successful product for Land Rover” and is thus a “good example of how you can take that top-end Range Rover and bring it down into a mid-sized premium vehicle”.

Similarly, HiPhi will look to equip its new entry-level model with the stand-out design cues, premium conception, advanced technology and engaging driving characteristics that have defined its products so far.

“Not one brand has all four of those attributes,” Stanton said. “Most brands have at best three, some of them only one.”

He didn’t confirm specifically whether the Y will feature the Z’s projector headlights (which can show films and directional arrows), its centre-mounted robotic arm or its 5G connectivity functions but he said it will “still deliver a very competitive level of premiumness”, adding that a lot of the technology featured on other HiPhi cars is software-based and so not prohibitively expensive to roll out to cheaper models.

Cars in Europe will be left-hand-drive initially, but production of right-hookers for the UK (“an attractive market”) will follow soon after.

Stanton reaffirmed HiPhi’s commitment to its premium billing, clarifying that global expansion doesn’t mean the brand will “start to sell hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of cars”. He said: “Our whole approach is one small step at a time, not to overstretch ourselves and overdo too many things.”

Q&A, Mark Stanton, chief technology officer, HiPhi

How do HiPhi customers react to driver monitoring technology?

“We do allow certain aspects of the car to be shut off. Some people love it, some people hate it, and in China people are worried about their privacy as well, like some people here. So yes, it can be a little bit of a Marmite feature. But our camera system is pretty spectacular. It’s got facial recognition, so you don’t need the key to start the car (there is no key, by the way), it can monitor your blood pressure and, just by looking at your face, it can tell if you’re happy or sad. It even knows how how old you are, but we decided not to put that on to the display, because people might get upset…”
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How is HiPhi designing cars for ‘smart cities’?

“We have this concept of three ‘smarts’: smart cars, smart roads and smart cities. We’ve focused more heavily in the last three or four years on smart cars to get those out into the marketplace, but we’ve developed technologies to support smart roads and the smart city. And we’ve done demonstration projects to actually enable those things to happen. And now we have a group within our company that’s really pushing forward with those smart-road and smart-city technologies. Our cars are V2X, 5G-enabled, so our cars are ready for those smart roads and smart city technologies already. They’ve already been enabled.”

Are there opportunities if HiPhi were to move production out of China?

“We’ve seen in the last five years that there are geopolitical things that happen around the world that are unpredictable, and putting all your eggs – as a manufacturing company – in one basket is perhaps not the most sensible thing to do. We’re not definitely going to do this. But you can see that if we want to really become an international company, which we do, then to just centre everything in China would probably not be the most sensible of things to do. So, yes, we’re looking and considering other places, possibly. But there’s absolutely no decisions on any of that at this stage.”

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