China Leading The Way To Electric Car Future: BYD, BMW Highlight Beijing Auto Show

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Every morning before heading off to the pool for aqua gym, I check my Google Alerts to see if there are any electric car stories I think would interest CleanTechnica readers. This morning, there were a bunch of them and they had one word in common: China.

BYD Takes Center Stage

BYD DiLink Screen

The Beijing auto show is going on right now, and Chinese automakers are pulling out all the stops to make an impression. There was a time when the world flocked to Detroit every January for what is grandly known as the North American International Auto Show, but today, if you want to know what’s hot in the world of automobiles, you have to go to Beijing to find out.

“The auto industry is undergoing a revolution which has never happened before. Internationalization, electrification, and intelligent connection have evolved from just ideas to reality,” says Wang Chuanfu, president and chairman of BYD in a press release. “We are at this historical turning point where BYD is stepping into the new era of automotive manufacturing with the world’s leading intelligent connected system DiLink and the e Platform which DiLink is a part of. BYD is reshaping the way of transportation.”

DiLink is a new connected car platform that features input from 341 sensors and has 66 control parameters. While those numbers are impressive, what is truly revolutionary about the system is that it is an open platform — a first in the automotive world.

BYD E-SEED Concept

In addition to new versions of its existing models, BYD introduced its latest concept vehicle, the E-SEED, which stands for Electronic Sports Experience Environmental Device. The company says it will accelerate to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds and have a range of 600 kilometers. If true, that would give it the longest range of any production vehicle. What an all new electric SUV concept is doing with dual exhaust pipes is anyone’s guess, but there is no denying the concept has a lot of visual appeal.

BYD has offered few details about the E-SEED as of yet, but did say its next generation Tang, a very popular SUV in China, will have a range of 500 kilometers under real-world driving conditions.

BMW Rolls Out The iX3

BMW iX3 in China

BMW is still searching for its electric car identity. Sales of the i3 are okay but not setting the world on fire. The i8 continues to perk along, selling a few here and a few there, but BMW’s i division has not generated the kind of sales traffic the company was hoping for.

In Beijing, it showed off its iX3 concept, which is for all intents and purposes a battery electric version of the X3 SUV the company manufactures in South Carolina. Once again, details are few. We don’t know much about the battery or how it is mounted in the vehicle, but the company says it will have a 70 kWh battery, 270 horsepower, and a range of 250 miles. Eking out a few more miles of range than the base Tesla Model X or the upcoming Jaguar I-Pace with a smaller battery suggests BMW has been burning the midnight oil developing the iX3.

The real news here is that BMW intends to manufacture the iX3 in China, according to The Verge. The German company has quietly been moving production of the conventional X3 from South Carolina to China and may have plans to export cars made there to other countries. Nicolas Peter, CFO of BMW, told Reuters in Beijing, “Export is an option which we are evaluating very intensively.”

It’s all part of the great global trade dance being orchestrated by Donald Trump and Xi Jinping and it looks like BMW is at least hedging its bets, if not actually choosing sides.

As The Verge says, “That the production of the iX3 will take place in China is a sign of the increasing influence the country wields over the automotive industry — especially with respect to EVs. It’s the largest car market in the world, and it’s certainly the biggest for all-electric cars at the moment. With the government aggressively pushing to clean up the country’s greenhouse gas emissions while also loosening manufacturing restrictions on foreign automakers, it’s an attractive proposition to set up shop in China, especially if you’re making EVs.”

Even GM Has A Dog In This Fight

Buick Enspire electric SUV

Mashable has made a list of 9 new electric car companies that are gearing up for production in China, including Nio, Byton, BAIC, Zhidhou, Changjiang, and Kandi. Clearly if you look at the ferment that is brewing electric cars in China and compare it to the slow walk American manufacturers are doing, the center of gravity for the future of the industry has shifted from Detroit to Asia.

Not to be left out, GM is taking advantage of this year’s Beijing auto show to take the wraps off its latest electric SUV concept, the Buick Enspire. Buick is a trade name that is falling out of favor in the US, but it is one of the more respected brands in China.

GM tells TechCrunch the Buick Enspire will be able to sprint to 60 mph in 4 seconds, thanks to its electric powertrain with 550 horsepower. Range is said to be 370 miles — the same as the E-SEED. An 80% battery charge can be accomplished in just 40 minutes using fast-charging equipment, and wireless charging capability is built in.

The styling of the Envision is inspired, even if the name is not. No doubt this concept is derived from the Chevrolet FNR-X plug-in hybrid SUV that graced the GM stand at last year’s Beijing show. No details have been released about the Envision — single motor? dual motor? — but it almost certainly leverages GM’s experience with the Chevy Volt and Chevy Bolt. When and if it goes into production, will it find its way back across the Pacific to America?

From China To The Great Beyond

No one knows, but for now, if you want a clue to the future of the automobile, you have to include China in your deliberations. But don’t make the mistake of assuming Chinese manufacturers are content to stay home and watch the money roll in. BAIC, which is owned by the Chinese government, announced at the Beijing show that it plans to be manufacturing electric vehicles in South Africa in the near future as it searches for new markets to conquer.

All conventional car makers — and even unconventional companies like Tesla — need to keep a close eye on China. In the foreseeable future, Chinese companies could come to dominate the global new car market and push the electric vehicle segment forward in a way few could have predicted even a few short years ago.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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