Chinese electric cars: Top five electric vehicles from China
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For years now we’ve heard talk of electric vehicles changing the world, and Australia is finally catching up with EV sales making up nearly 7.5 per cent of local sales in the first half of 2023.
Finally, government incentives are beginning to add a bit of fuel to the EV demand fire, and supply issues, which have plagued the whole industry since the beginning of the COVID pandemic are starting to clear up, allowing the biggest electric car brands from around the world to finally start deliveries in significant numbers.
Take this little nugget into consideration: electric vehicles in China, the world’s largest car market, are expected to make up 58 per cent of new car sales in that vast country by 2030. Considering that there are 400 million registered drivers in a country with a population of around 1.4 billion, that’s a whole lotta EVs coming out of their factories (or ‘NEVs’ as they’re called there, for 'New Energy Vehicles').
In China, plug-in car sales are up nearly 40 per cent in the first half of 2023, with a whopping 1.9 million vehicles with plugs sold overall, making up 33 per cent of its new-car market. The split is 11 per cent market share to plug-in hybrids, and 22 per cent for fully electric vehicles. China is also the world’s largest manufacturer of EVs, accounting for around half the electric cars sold around the world. Oh, and they also make 99 per cent of the world’s electric buses.
A lot of this year’s robust EV sales in China came down to three brands: Tesla and their made-in-China Tesla Model 3, SGMW (a joint venture between the companies SAIC, General Motors and Wuling) and their Hongguang Mini EV, and BYD which is majorly gaining ground on those two with its keenly-priced range which includes SUVs, sedans, and hatchbacks.
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Chinese car manufacturers are naturally scrambling to keep up with demand. Tesla’s made-in-China Model Y has started deliveries and SGMW’s Baojun E-Series and the Ora R1 from Great Wall Motors (GWM) are both seeing healthy sales, the latter model once being touted as the world’s cheapest EV. Meanwhile, the BYD Yuan Plus (known locally in Australia as the Atto 3) rapidly shot to the top of the charts, claiming a position as China's top-selling electric SUV in early 2021.
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A network of standardised public EV chargers (accounting for 82 per cent of the world’s publicly accessible fast chargers), government support with manufacturing mandates and dozens of EV brands on the market are all contributing to the popularity of Chinese electric cars.
Even in Australia, cars of Chinese origin now rank third, behind only Thailand and Japan. These sales aren't just from Chinese brands, Volvo, Polestar, BMW, and others have started sourcing models due to lower construction and shipping costs, as well as the need to keep EV factories close to where the batteries are built.
The Best Electric Cars In China
Here's our list of the five best and most promising electric cars out of China which aren't currently sold in Australia, how much they cost, and whether they stand a chance for an Australian launch.
Price: From ¥214,800/AU$45,070
Hailing from Shenzhen, BYD is emerging as China’s dominant EV force, and the Han is China’s answer to the Tesla Model S. A mid-size luxury sedan and BYD’s flagship model, the Han can travel up to 605km on a single charge and accelerates from 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds thanks to its all-wheel drive system
It frequently ranks as one of China’s best-selling electric cars as a result and of course, packs the cabin with new-age tech with a heavy influence from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, according to the brand. It also utilises BYD’s cobalt-free ‘blade battery’ technology and, in an unusual twist, is also available with a PHEV drivetrain.
For those sold on this Model S alternative, the BYD Han has been spotted undergoing homologation testing in Australia and could still be a part of the brand’s rollout plans, which started with the Atto 3 small SUV in 2022, and will see the Dolphin hatch arrive in 2023, althogh we'd expect to see the smaller Model 3-sized Seal sedan arrive first.
Price: From ¥328,000/AU$68,789
You might remember Nio as the brand who brought you the Nurburgring-smashing EP9 supercar which set a circuit record in 2017. Now it offers a diverse range of vehicles not only in China but has now begun exporting to Europe with the promise of bringing “supercar DNA” to its range.
The ET5 is a Model 3-sized sedan which launched in 2022, offering up to a whopping 1000km of range (according to the Chinese test cycle), a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.3-seconds, an all-wheel drive system, 50:50 weight distribution, as well as big outputs of 360kW/700Nm.
The ET5 is far from a cheap and cheerful offering though, starting in China from the equivalent of nearly $70,000 and it remains to be seen if it can truly take the fight to Tesla and BYD. I wouldn’t hold your breath for an Australian launch any time soon either, as it seems the brand has its export eyes firmly set on EV-friendly Europe for the time being.
Wuling Hongguang Mini EV
Price: From ¥32,800/AU$6878
The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is by far China’s best-selling fully electric car. A reminder of China’s densely populated cities and need for a small vehicle class all but extinct in Australia, the Hongguang Mini EV moved an eye-watering 395,451 units in China over the course of 2021. For contrast, the best-selling car in Australia over the same period was the Toyota HiLux, which scored just 52,801 sales.
The Hongguang Mini EV is even smaller than Australia’s smallest car, the Kia Picanto, and is available with two battery options for either 120km or 170km of range, has just four seats, and a top-speed of just 100km. Hardly impressive specs, but its popularity is a bit easier to understand when you see that the little box car starts from just under the equivalent of AU$7,000.
Chances for an Australian launch? We’d say next to none.
Price: From ¥509,800/AU$106,894
Hongqi (translating to 'Red Flag') is China’s oldest local automaker founded in 1959, and is renowned for producing the country’s state limousine favoured by Xi Jinping himself, the L5.
Since a re-boot in the mid ‘90s, Hongqi has become China’s local pinnacle luxury brand, launching an array of models, and the HS-9 is the brand’s equivalent to the BMW iX. A premium flagship large SUV, the E-HS9 is capable of driving 690km on a single charge with the largest 120kWh battery option and can be chosen with either four, six, or seven seat interior layouts.
Don’t expect to see Hongqi launch in Australia any time soon, with the brand solidly focused on left-hand drive for now.
Price: From ¥300,000/AU$62,364
If the wild shooting-brake styling doesn't pique your interest, perhaps over 1000km of driving range and a 400kW/686Nm dual-motor drivetrain will. The Zeekr 001 is the first car from Geely's high-end performance EV division, which has since also added an equally wacky high-performance SUV (the Zeekr X) and people mover (Zeekr 009) to its line-up.
This one is perhaps more realistic for Australia thanks to a rapidly growing Geely, which already has ties in our market with its Volvo and Polestar subsidiaries, as well as its use of modular platforms like the Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) platform which will support right-hand drive going forward. Geely is yet to comment on re-entering the Australian market, aside from a note on expansion in an investor briefing from over a year ago, but given the success of its subsidiaries and its Chinese rivals in the transition to the electric era, we wouldn't be surprised to see the giant automaker give it a shot.