GM energizes Chinese electric micro car market

The Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV, below. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 September 2020

GM energizes Chinese electric micro car market

  • Trend toward a new segment of EVs in the country following changes to government subsidies

BEIJING: When 32-year-old photographer Jaco Xu needed a run-around car for work in the eastern city of Hangzhou, the price tag on the latest micro EV from GM’s China joint venture overcame his qualms about electric vehicles.

Xu paid 38,800 yuan ($5,735) for his tiny two-door Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV, while the basic model retails for just 28,800 yuan ($4,200), making it China’s cheapest EV.
“It feels pretty good. The price is so low and the appearance is simple and beautiful,” said Xu. “Why would I hesitate at that price?“
Launched in July, the Wuling MINI is heading a trend toward a new segment of EVs in China following changes to government subsidies — smaller vehicles with less range between charges, but a super-cheap price tag.
Despite basic features — no safety air bags, optional air-conditioning and a driving range of less than 200 km (125 miles) due to a smaller battery — buyers have been enthusiastic.
SGMW, GM’s venture with partners SAIC Motor Corp. and Guangxi Automobile Group, sold about 15,000 of the vehicles in August, making it China’s top-selling EV for the month, surpassing Tesla’s popular Model 3.
The venture plans to expand manufacturing capabilities of the new model, turning out cars at its plant in Liuzhou as well as its existing facilities in Qingdao, said Zhou Xing, SGMW’s branding and marketing director.
“We positioned this model as a ‘people’s commuting tool’,” he said, speaking ahead of the Beijing auto show that starts on Saturday. “Customers can drive their cars to work every day.”
The target market includes people like Xu who are looking for a city run-around as a second car, rural buyers who want a vehicle to move goods and young first-time buyers who are motivated by price.

HIGHLIGHTS

● GM JV micro car is China’s best-selling EV in August.

● Wuling MINI EV targets new EV buyers, sells from $4,200.

● Leads trend to smaller cars, batteries after subsidy cuts.

Total sales of new energy vehicles — including electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles — are expected to reach 1.1 million vehicles in China this year, about 5 percent of total auto sales. The micro car represents a shift in what typifies a mainstream electric vehicle, as policymakers push for increased EV production and sales have been bolstered by restrictions on petrol-fueled cars.
In response to government requirements to win generous EV subsidies, automakers over the past decade have developed higher energy-density battery systems to allow cars to drive for longer with a single charge.
Tesla’s Model 3, which has a range of more than 400 km, has been the market leader in China for most of 2020, retailing for about $43,000, about 10 times the cost of the Wuling MINI.
However, China cut subsidies heavily in 2019 and is now asking for higher EV power efficiency to save energy. Automakers, in turn, are planning more smaller EVs with a moderate driving range aimed at customers who can charge cars easily, industry executives said.
The economics are skinny. Wuling MINI will not get EV subsidies due to its short range. For SGMW, the cheap price tag means it makes very little money at best, according to insiders.
EVs, however, generate green credits for SGMW that can be used to offset negative credits of other companies like SGM, its sister venture which is expanding a lineup of bigger SUVs under Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac marques.
“Selling micro EVs in China makes more sense this year,” said a product planning official at a GM rival. “Subsidies have become a less important factor of pricing as government has already cut a lot, while green credits are expected to become more expensive,” the official said.
Bidding to reverse a sales decline due to a slower economy and stiff competition, GM expects EVs to make up more than 40 percent of its new launches in China over the next five years.
The Detroit automaker is revamping plants in Shanghai, Wuhan and Liuzhou under its two Chinese JVs to enable production lines making gasoline cars to turn out EVs, public documents detailing its constructions plans show.
For now, the Wuling MINI is the cheapest EV, but it faces competition from the cheapest models from rivals BYD and BAIC BluePark.
Great Wall Motor and Toyota’s China partner GAC are also planning more electric models with a range below 400 km, company officials said this month.
And startup Kaiyun Motors is trying to radically lower the price of its new electric pickup truck Pixel to about 20,000 yuan for urban delivery services, although these EVs will be sold without batteries, allowing consumers to swap them.


Qatar Airways expects to keep Airbus A380s parked for years

Updated 19 October 2020

Qatar Airways expects to keep Airbus A380s parked for years

  • State-owned airline parked its 10 A380s due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on travel demand
  • Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al-Baker criticizes rivals operating the A380 as ‘foolish’

DUBAI: Qatar Airways does not expect to use its Airbus A380s for at least the next two years, its chief executive said on Monday, longer than a previous projection for the superjumbos to possibly return to service in 2021.
The state-owned airline has parked its 10 A380s due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on travel demand.
“We don’t think we are going to operate our A380s for at least the next couple of years,” Akbar Al-Baker told an online conference.
He had said in June the jets would remain parked until at least the middle of next year. The Gulf carrier plans to start retiring its A380s from 2024 when its oldest superjumbo reaches ten years of service.
The A380s would return once the airline saw the growth rate of 2019, before the pandemic struck, Baker said.
The 100 destinations to which the airline is currently flying is 25 fewer than planned due to a new wave of infections in Europe and travel restrictions, he said.
Baker criticized rivals operating the A380 as “foolish,” saying there was insufficient demand and so prices would be driven down.
Air France retired its A380s this year, while British Airways and Qantas retired their Boeing 747s as the crisis sent air travel into free fall.
Gulf carrier Etihad Airways is mulling whether its parked A380 fleet will ever return, while Emirates, the largest superjumbo operator, has resumed some services with the jet.