Five Intriguing, Forward-Thinking Chinese Car Brands
For an outsider, the streets of many Chinese cities can feel like a parallel universe. Of course, Chinese drivers are fond of Buicks and Mercedes-Benzes, but the recent proliferation of homegrown brands—especially from electric vehicle-makers—is giving the world’s largest automotive market more options to buy local. The shock of models expected within the next year or two get hundreds of miles of electric range and sit as sleekly as a Tesla. But they’re even more impressive inside; decked out with screens bigger than a laptop, USB ports numbering in the double digits, and, in one case, an AI-powered bot that can handle your selfie needs.
Recently in China for the unveiling of Maybach's first-ever all-electric SUV concept, the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury, and to take part in an incredible road trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, we further explored several Chinese auto brands that intrigued us. Here are five that should pique any car enthusiast's interest.
Founded by former BMW executives, electric vehicle start-up Byton launched at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with a midsize SUV concept featuring a four-foot-long display screen dominating the dashboard. Scheduled for sale in China by 2020, the SUV will use facial recognition to unlock the car and hand gesture controls to operate the dashboard while the car is in motion. Byton, which already has facilities in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, has grand global ambitions, planning to launch two more cars by 2022.
With backing from Tencent, Asia’s largest technology conglomerate, NIO is preparing for the launch later this year of its connected electric SUV, the ES8. The seven-passenger crossover is designed for speed. Not only does NIO say it can hit 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, it features battery-swapping capability that cuts the amount of time drivers must spend recharging the car. In addition to the latest driver assistance technology such as traffic jam pilot, highway pilot, and automatic emergency braking, the ES8 features a first-of-its-kind, in-car artificial intelligence system. "It also has this AI bot called NOMI that sits on the dashboard and can talk to you and take pictures of you and your passengers," says Jeffrey Russo, a Beijing-based autos analyst. "Kinda gimmicky, but will be interesting to see how people use it," he adds.
One of China’s newest EV start-ups, Singulato Motors is launching the iS6 mid-size SUV, a family-sized with a long wheelbase, a dozen USB ports, and a 15.6-inch touchscreen that swivels between landscape and portrait modes. The iS6 will feature options for a third row, all-wheel drive, and a battery-powered range of 250 miles. (A less powerful version is said to eke out about 186 miles.) The SUV comes equipped with Level 2 semi-autonomous technology and could be one of the first cars to debut Level 3 features, which allow the car to manage most aspects of driving in certain conditions. However, the driver must be available to intervene at any time.
The majority of China’s EV start-ups claim they’re taking aim squarely at Tesla. WM Motors, founded by a former Geely executive with investment from Tencent, may actually do it. The company is planning to launch its first vehicle, the Weltmeister EX5 SUV, later this year as a scalable EV with an alleged range of 370 miles and reported sticker price hovering near $30,000. Meanwhile, taking a page from Musk's playbook, WM has announced plans to launch two more vehicles by 2020.
Lynk & Co.
Owned by Volvo parent company Geely, Lynk & Co might make the world’s fastest-selling car you’ve never heard of. When its first model, the Lynk & Co 01 SUV, went on pre-sale in November, its 6,000 cars sold out in less than three minutes. Lynk’s crossover, which is based on the same platform as Volvo’s new XC40 small SUV, is taking another cue from the Swedes' urban-inspired model by marketing a range of ownership options: buy, borrow, share or subscribe. Of course, the 01 comes loaded with connectivity features including a dedicated app store for its cars, a personal storage cloud, and what it bills as the world’s first in-car share button.