The SAIC, GM, and Wuling joint venture unleashed a smash hit car in China around mid-2020 at the height of the global coronavirus pandemic. The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV caused so much excitement in China and has helped create a whole new market for mini electric vehicles. In just over 2 and a half years, it has sold close to a million units in China. The Mini EV is very popular in the 2nd and 3rd tier Chinese cities and is enabling people who would not have been able to afford a car to be able to get a decent affordable vehicle. Starting at just $4,200, the Mini EV’s appeal to “non-consumers” (the market not traditionally targeted by automakers) has a real potential to disrupt the auto industry. We could say it not only has potential to disrupt but has already started to disrupt the auto market in China to a certain extent.
The success of the Hongguang Mini EV shows that there is a huge market for these basic EVs. Several Chinese firms have also realized this and have come up with their own mini EVs. Some of the big players in China’s huge popular Low Speed Electric Vehicle (LSEV) segment, such as Levdeo, have also added vehicles in the mini EV category. Levdeo introduced the Letin Mango EV. Other notable mini EVs include the Jemmel Lingbox Coco which starts at about $4,100, good value for a car with a 30 kW motor giving 95 Nm of torque and a range of 120 km (NEDC) from an LFP battery. The Pocco Mei Mei, the Cherry’s QQ Ice Cream and its many flavors, as well as Geely’s Panda Mini EV, are some of the other mini EVs.
The SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture has also been proactive and has not been sitting around as more players enter the mini EV market. The joint venture has released several iterations of the mini EV including the Gameboy Edition, the colorful Macaron version, and the Cabriolet, as well as the upgraded version that gave it a slightly longer wheelbase and a 26 kWh battery, up from the 9.2 kWh and 13.8 kWh in the first models. It is also getting a more powerful electric motor upgraded to 30 kW from the previous 20 kW. Another version, the Wuling Air, is already being produced in Indonesia and is aimed at the export market.
Now, the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture is stepping things up another notch and is about to introduce an all-wheel drive 3-door electric mini SUV that is in the same class of vehicles as the very popular ICE Suzuki Jimny. This mini electric all-wheel drive mini SUV will be under the KiWi brand. Here is a video of the electric mini SUV undergoing testing in China. It is set to go on sale in the first quarter of this year. According to CarNewsChina, this off-road KiWi mini electric SUV will have two electric motors providing a combined power of around 110 hp. In testing, it has also been spotted with two 10.25-inch monitors on the dashboard. Carscoops reports that this mini electric SUV could get a 31.9 kWh battery similar to the one in the KiWi Plus mini EV, which would give it a decent EV range that could be around 300 km (NEDC).
The KiWi mini SUV is potentially about to disrupt another popular vehicle market segment for small off-road SUVs. The very popular Suzuki Jimny’s current version has a 1.5-liter, naturally aspirated petrol engine that has a 75 kW, 100hp motor, and a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual gearbox. About 3 million Suzuki Jimnys have been sold in over 190 countries since 1970. With its two electric motors giving 110 hp which is similar to the Jimny, the KiWi electric mini SUV is well poised to excite this vehicle segment.
The Jimny is small, simple, affordable, and has good off-road capabilities which make it a favorite for many car enthusiasts. The Jimny starts at about $20,000 in South Africa and other similar markets for example, and if the electric KiWi mini SUV is priced in that range, it will definitely sell like hot cakes once it is introduced on the global market. Another advantage the KiWi mini electric SUV would have is its ground clearance and off-road capabilities to handle some of the interesting roads in a lot of developing countries. Some of the roads we have in some urban and rural areas became some of the biggest talking points in forums and platforms when the $5,000 Chinese mini EV (the Hongguang Mini EV) was brought up in conversations. Many comments bring up things like “its ground clearance is a bit too low and that the car is a bit too small compared to some of the popular used vehicles that dominate vehicle imports in several developing nations.” Of course, the Wuling Mini EV would cost a lot more than $5,000 after shipping and import costs, but it should still land at prices that are pretty competitive with some of the 8- or 10-year old ICE vehicles that are the popular imports.
Although the Hongguang Mini EV is not as small as one would think, the KiWi mini electric SUV would appeal to a wider audience should it be introduced on the African continent, for example. It is larger and more practical than the Hongguang mini EV. It could be popular as a basic city car as well with its decent range and not just for its off-road capabilities. Some of its strong selling points could include its appealing retro style, similar to the latest version of the Suzuki Jimny, along with its modern interior that includes the 2 touch screens.
Another potential market beside everyday use in the city could be for use by campus-based businesses such as farms, mines, educational and healthcare facilities, nature conservancies, and game parks. What are the chances we will see other players follow with their own versions of this mini electric off road vehicle? Probably very high. Looking forward to seeing how this mini EV sector evolves. This is a segment that could really be transformational for many developing nations.
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