If you’re looking for the next world power in personal mobility, look no further than China. And that’s all down to the fact that China is the global engine-room when it comes to electric vehicle (EV) technology and production.
Of course, China has been a powerhouse in consumer products (and electronics) for decades now, but the shift from an internal combustion reality to an electric future sees China well placed.
Many of China’s major car-makers are State owned, meaning there should be no problem with funding for research and development. And while the major Chinese brands are, right now, concentrating on domestic EV demand, there’s absolutely no chance that the global picture won’t be tackled. Probably sooner rather than later. Many Chinese car companies are already 100 per cent devoted to EV line-ups and new factories are springing up all over the country. It’s fair to say that in China electric vehicles will soon rule the car-making roost. If they don’t already…
Electric cars in China are a natural match with the population, too. Chinese consumers also have no hang-ups about going electric. As a nation that has only embraced the concept of personal transport in the last few decades, there are not the legacy models or emotional attachment to old technologies like internal combustion. There’s no ingrained car culture as we know it, and as cars become more and more like computers on wheels, China is more likely to embrace that trend. The idea of fully autonomous cars has a clearer psychological path in China than in many countries, too.
If the EV future looks brighter, then it will be embraced with no looking back. China arguably has more to gain than some nations by going electric, in terms of improvements to its environmental track record. Estimates suggest that three out of every five cars sold in China by 2030 will be EVs, making the total EV market there about 18 million cars.
Even allowing for the fact that domestic consumption of EVs is the priority at the moment, the joint ventures with global brands suggests an eye on the world scene, too. State-owned SAIC Motors (which makes the MG brand) already has joint-venture operations with none other than VW and General Motors.
The bald numbers are just as impressive: While China contributes just 15 per cent of global car making overall, in the EV world, it accounts for 45 per cent of global production! Domestically, it’s a wild ride, too, with March this year alone accounting for 458,000 sales of Chinese electric cars on the home market (that includes any cars with a rechargeable function; either a pure EV or PHEV). That was up a full 118 per cent on March the previous year, and roughly half the EVs sold in the world that month. So while EVs are gradually gaining acceptance in many world markets, in China electric car ownership is galloping forward.
If you’re looking to beat the trend and get into a Chinese EV right now, you have a few choices. There’s the established MG ZS EV starting from $46,990 drive-away (except in Tasmania) or the new BYD Atto3 which is similarly priced at $44,381, but that’s before on-road costs. The other alternative is the Tesla Model 3 which, despite its US origins, is actually made in China for consumption in Australia (in Tesla’s new Shanghai factory).
But rest assured that more are on the way and we could soon be seeing new EV products from Ora, Nio and the on-again-off-again Chery brand. All those companies have a bright EV future in China, and it will be interesting to see how that translates to the rest of the world, including us.
As of mid-last year, there were 46 companies in China manufacturing EVs, and that doesn’t include companies developing EV-specific software or making battery-packs. Right now, just some of the big EV brands in China include:
* SAIC Motor – Government-owned company that offers brands such as Maxus/LDV, Wuling, Roewe, Baojun and, of course, MG which gave us the ZS sold here. Has joint ventures with VW and GM going back many years. China’s largest traditional car maker, SAIC is now transitioning to an EV future. Recently partnered with Alibaba to create Jhiji, a pure electric brand.
* BYD Auto – With 13 factories around China and five models in production, BYD built 130,000 EVs in 2020. A partnership with Toyota looks promising going forward.
* Tesla – Although its HQ is in the USA, the Shanghai gigafactory opened in January 2020 makes Tesla a big player in China. Our Model 3s are made there.
* Nio – Although yet to really hit its straps, Nio already has five models coming out of one factory and a workforce of 7000. Founded in 2014, Nio also recently announced its autonomous driving aspirations under the Nio Pilot banner which would go head to head with Tesla’s Autopilot system.
* Geely – Another of the traditional Chinese car manufacturers with roots in conventionally powered cars but now making the switch to electric. Geely currently has five models from two factories and also owns Volvo which it bought from Ford in 2010.
* Chery – Another of the older Chinese brands with an internal-combustion past, Chery has been racing towards EVs since about 2011 and now has 10 models on the market. It leads China’s vehicle export companies but, unlike other State-owned car-makers, does not have joint ventures with foreign manufacturers.
There are plenty more Chinese electric cars as manufacturers make the switch to EV production. We’ll also see some brands emerge soon (already) with no history in anything other than electric vehicles.
The other thing to watch for will be emergence of a Chinese electric supercar which might seem at odds with the country’s anti-elitist past, but is bang on trend with what’s happening there right now.
By David Morley