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Caution on low-speed electric cars

Published October 10, 2011

In 2018 China Car Times was acquired by Autowise. This article originally appeared on ChinaCarTimes.com.

Many Chinese automotive specialists are smiling from ear to ear these days, because many German brands introduced their electric city cars on Frankfurt Auto Show early last month, which are similar to their ideal low-speed electric car.

Audi Urban, Volkswagen NILS and Opel RAK e are two-seater or one-seater city cars with smaller batteries and motors. The cars much smarter than Daimler Smart only weigh around 500kg, and the top speed is about 100 km/h. Holding hands with Renault Twizy, they have constituted a European camp of low-speed electric cars.

Currently, the bad news for electric car is that the high-cost and short-lived battery results in short driving range and long charging time, so as to hinder the development of electric vehicles in the long run. Well, if you think like this, since the short driving range electric car can only stretch its legs within the downtown, why not  just positioning it as compact mini city car? If it happens, electric cars gain the approval to have a short driving range and tiny body, thus the capacity of battery pack could also be reduced to optimize the cost and charging time. This time, Chinese automotive specialists and European car makers think in a same way.

Some Chinese experts believe that full-size electric car is stuck in the mire of high cost, slow charging, and stronger foreign counterparts. China should give priority to the development of low-speed electric vehicles, develop the market and realize the industrialization of electric vehicles, and then gradually increase product capacity and switch brand positioning, at last, turn to the full-size electric vehicles. However, I believe, we need to give it another thought.

From the practical consideration, the consumers demand of driving range for electric cars is not high. Even for big cities like Shanghai, the average daily mileage is only 30 km, significantly shorter than electric vehicle driving range of 100-150 km. So, even if t driving range reduced to 50-80 km, it can still meet the daily needs of most office workers.

However, if only considering the practical needs, more than 80% of the SUV will disappear, sports cars with the highest speed of 300 km/h will no longer exist. Practical needs does not mean âactual needs.  People often consider the potential of off-road performance, dynamic performance, and the loading space to prepare for contingencies. For most Chinese family, who often own one car, it is even more important. From the perspective of driving range, low-speed electric vehicles cannot even meet the needs of the weekend out-town trip. Therefore, it would be difficult to be accepted by most Chinese families.

So, perhaps we can first sell the low-end low-cost low-speed electric vehicles in the four-tier or three-tier cities, and then slowly and gradually introduce it into the second-tier and first-tier cities. The idea itself is not unreasonable, but enhancing a brand image from previously an established low-end one to a high-end one is by no means easy. The difficulty may be even higher than directly into the high-end electric car market. Moreover, does it mean hand over the cake to these foreign competitors when we giving up the high-end market?

More careful thought is needed. Low-speed electric vehicles do have market value, but the development of low-speed electric vehicles does not mean the high-end electric cars can be temporarily dumped. As for the low-speed electric vehicles, although the body weight and driving range are âplaying the foldâ, this does not mean the R & D and marketing efforts can be discounted.

(Written by Gong Zaiyan in Chinese, Translated by Geng Yuchen)

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