© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV at a SAIC-GM-Wuling dealership in Beijing
By Norihiko Shirouzu
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Toyota has pioneered the world’s most successful hybrid car but when it comes to pure electric cars, it has some work to do, especially in China.
The Hong Guang Mini EV, a small, no-frills car made by a joint venture of General Motors (NYSE 🙂 for under $ 5,000, is a huge hit in the world’s largest car market while Toyota has yet to launch. to market its own small, low-car. the cost of electric vehicles in China.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, is set to announce its solution at the Shanghai auto show on April 19: a new universal platform for electric vehicles (EV) called e-TNGA will serve as the basis for a wide range of vehicle models from small to large SUVs.
It will also showcase the electric midsize sport utility vehicle (SUV) concept, based on the e-TNGA platform, which is expected to go on sale worldwide within the next few years, the two familiar with said Toyota’s plan.
Toyota executives have long called for compact electric cars, but the fact that the company goes first with a midsize SUV is a sign of the challenges it still faces in making them. Electric car is small, low cost but also competitive, comfortable and safe.
With increasing pressure on automakers to cut emissions, Toyota is trying to produce electric vehicles that can compete globally with Tesla’s premium sedans, Tesla (NASDAQ: ), mid-range models from Volkswagen (DE 🙂 and Renault (PA 🙂 and sleek electric cars from Chinese startups like and Xpeng.
While Toyota’s Prius hybrid became the best-selling product in the world, one of its early attempts to develop a small EV, the eQ, failed.
After selling around 100 eQ in 2012, Toyota abandoned it due to concerns about the EV’s limits, such as the high price, short range, and long charging times.
The EQ, an electric version of Toyota’s mini iQ, costs 3.6 million yen ($ 33,000), roughly the same price as the midsize Camry.
One key issue in developing a small, affordable EV is that the demand for electric powertrain has yet to reach the level equivalent to those familiar with Toyota’s plans, said people familiar with Toyota’s plans. their gas partner.
Stuffing bulky batteries into a tiny car is another challenge.
Many electric vehicles have high floors because batteries are stacked, making carmakers choose to make cars much taller to give passengers ample space, or keep passengers, the sources said. lower guests and sacrifice comfort.
Toyota doesn’t want to compromise on quality, comfort or performance with its small EV, but they are aware that they need to develop expertise in cutting engineering costs in order to provide such a vehicle with price below 20,000 USD.
That expertise is what GM leveraged to create the Mini EV, which can cost as little as 28,800 yuan ($ 4,410).
Its joint venture, SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW), is the largest manufacturer of non-styled commercial trucks in China with a starting price of around 30,000 yuan and it has harnessed the know-how of cost control. there.
“Basically, Wuling simply had to replace the gasoline engines in those commercial trucks with a simple electric drive,” said Yale Zhang, head of consulting firm Automotive Foresight.
He expects sales of the Mini EV and its premium Macaron version to reach 500,000 this year.
Zhou Xing, SGMW vice president of sales and marketing at Wuling and Baojun, said it was preparing to launch four small EVs by early 2022 under its brands, bringing the model range to 10 when More competitors enter the market.
The Mini EV also cuts corners that are not allowed in the US or Europe, highlighting the challenge Toyota faces in developing a viable competitor that can handle easily in a crowded city and still have quality. quality and high performance.
For example, the Mini EV has only one airbag, no passenger airbags, or on either side to protect the occupants if it rolls over.
The car has anti-lock brakes but no stability control technology despite its rather tall and stout body shape making it easy to flip when cornering at high speed, the two are familiar with the development of it told Reuters.
“First of all, the product meets all of China’s vehicle safety requirements. Hong Guang Mini EV is basically a commuter tool, helping people get from point A to point B in city traffic. It is very difficult for them to drive this vehicle in high altitude, said Chu of SGMW.
The no-frills approach certainly doesn’t detract from its appeal.
Launched in July, cost-conscious Chinese shoppers and trendy urban, young people are making around 100,000 mini electric cars every quarter, making it one of the most popular car dealerships. Top power in China.
Several young drivers were buying it and partly other Wuling cars after a video of a wuling van skillfully racing on a zigzag mountain road went viral. For many, seeing a basic Chinese truck do the tough maneuvers has made them feel nationally proud.
Huang Peixian, 26, a small business owner in Shantou City, Guangdong Province, said: “I am proud of what Chinese-made vehicles like Wuling wagons can achieve.
“When I saw the Hong Guang Mini EV, I thought it might be a good car for me,” she said. “I’m not only attracted to the car because it’s cheap, but it’s also really fun to drive.”
Many drivers personalize their Mini EV with a new paint job and sleek head and tail lights. Some are even customizing their other cars, such as Audis and BMW, with Wuling stickers and badges.
Huang did his best, turning the interior of her Mini EV to pink and the characters from Japanese anime Chibi Maruko-chan white on the outside.
GREEN CREDIT BOOK
Toyota’s electric SUV will be the first to be produced by its new air-exhaust vehicle design division in Japan, called the ZEV Factory.
However, to get the low-cost know-how it needs, it turned to Chinese car and battery maker BYD through a joint research and development company it founded last year.
The plan is to use BYD’s expertise in making small electric vehicles and some of its key components, including batteries.
But it is still possible that Toyota will use the electric drivetrain technology – a combination of motors, inverters and gears – called the e-Axle made by affiliated company BluE Nexus, according to one of the people familiar with Toyota’s plans.
Hong Guang Mini EV also plays an important role for GM and SAIC as it generates credits for green cars. Automakers in China need to produce enough New Energy Vehicles (NEV) to earn credits to compensate for their production of combustion engine cars.
The Mini EV’s success means GM and SAIC can afford to sell credit to rivals or build larger, more luxurious gasoline cars without penalty.
Zhang of Automotive Foresight also said the green credit system means the Mini EV can be priced so competitively that it is hardly profitable.
SGMW’s Zhou declined to say how much or how much the Mini EV makes from green credits.
“We’ve seen quite a few companies come to us and buy credits from us. But we don’t want to reveal who they are,” he said.
Two sources familiar with Toyota’s plans said they have no plans to lose money on the retail price of the small EV or take advantage of green credits to make it more competitive.
A company spokesperson declined to comment on whether Toyota has enough NEV credit for China, or whether it sees selling them as an integral part of its strategy.
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