The hottest electric vehicles are in China

Written by on September 11, 2023

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(NEW YORK) — The Zeekr 009 is every American’s dream car. The ultra-luxe cabin comes with massage seats and satiny leather. Futuristic tech like face and voice recognition makes driving effortless. Plus, the capacious 009 packs more than 500 horsepower.

Haven’t heard of the Zeekr 009? You’re not alone. The all-electric minivan (repeat: all-electric minivan) is only sold in China.

Zeekr, owned by Chinese powerhouse Geely, also produces the 001, a sleek all-electric sedan that can travel 621 miles on a single charge. That’s more than double the range of an average EV in the U.S.

“There are so many EVs in China, it’s hard to count them,” Jared Rosenholtz, editor-at-large at CarBuzz, told ABC News. “There are vehicles of all shapes and sizes … many of these are not designed for U.S. market.”

There are 138 automakers in China, the No. 1 auto market in the world. At least 40 of the 138 are purely electric companies, according to J.D. Power. Last year, EV sales in China totaled 6.9 million units, an increase of 93.4% compared to the prior year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

“It’s a market that in many ways is kinda bonkers,” Ed Kim, president and chief analyst at AutoPacific, told ABC News. “EVs are exploding out there … it’s the Wild West. The sheer amount of choice is staggering. Companies in China are developing shockingly radical vehicles.”

Take the Zeekr 009, for example. Minivans are loathed in America. In China, they’re glorified. Minivans are “prestigious” modes of transport, said Kim, and many corporate execs and VIPs are chauffeured in them.

“The Zeekr 009 is the boldest minivan I’ve ever seen,” Kim noted. “A giant screen drops down for passengers. The second row is like a kingly throne. It’s extremely upscale and has all-wheel drive. This is not your mom’s Dodge Caravan.”

CarBuzz’s Rosenholtz pointed out, however, that many EVs in China are pint-size and have a fraction of the power Americans crave in their vehicles. One example is the GM Wuling Mini EV Cabrio, a cute convertible that General Motors builds with its joint venture, SAIC-GM-Wuling.

The car can barely hit 60 mph and makes less than 40 horsepower but it’s affordable — less than $9,000 — and is easy to maneuver around China’s congested city streets.

“The Wuling only has 106 miles of range for the top model but cars are used differently in China,” said Rosenholtz. “Consumers there drive shorter distances. They need small cars.”

Another key difference between Chinese and American EV drivers is the ability to charge overnight, added Kim. “China has extreme population density and even rich Chinese people live in apartments,” he said. “Chinese drivers don’t necessarily have access to home charging like we do in the U.S.”

In addition to electric minivans and adorable convertibles, Chinese automaker XPeng claims its G9 SUV is the “fastest-charging EV” in the world, with the ability to add 200 kilometers of range, or about 124 miles, in under five minutes at a 480-kilowatt charging outlet.

“There’s so little awareness of what’s in China, probably because of the language barrier,” said Kim. “Chinese media is also heavily censored and controlled.”

Plus, the U.S. tacks on a 25% tariff on Chinese imports, another barrier to accessing these newfangled EVs.

“Don’t hold your breath for an XPeng,” said Kim. “Most Chinese brands will be stuck over there.”

EVs have been more widely accepted in China partly because the government there “has pushed the EV cause so strongly,” said Kim. According to J.D. Power, the Chinese government no longer provides generous subsidies to electric vehicle buyers as of Jan. 1, though consumers are still entitled to a 10% purchase tax exemption until the end of the year.

Tesla, the undisputed EV leader in the U.S., is also insanely popular with Chinese motorists. It produces the sought-after Tesla Model Y and 3 at its local Shanghai factory and operates independently, unlike its overseas competitors.

“Tesla is one of the few foreign automakers having tremendous success in China,” Kim said.

Ford CEO Jim Farley recently acknowledged China’s outsized influence on the EV market, saying in May, “I think we see the Chinese as the main competitor, not GM or Toyota. The Chinese are going to be the powerhouse.”

Yet Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power, argued that U.S. consumers have a far greater selection of EVs to choose from, such as the GMC Hummer EV Pickup, Ford F-150 Lightning and the Rivian R1T truck. Moreover, “niche” and compact EVs that Chinese consumers drive would not fare well in the U.S. until the public charging infrastructure catches up, he said.

“We get the coolest EVs, in my opinion,” Jominy told ABC News. “Fun-to-drive, high-tech, performance orientated — that’s the U.S. market.”

If Chinese EVs are staying put in that country, Kim said he’s going to them, rather than wait.

“I would love a two-week vacation in China to sample all these EVs,” he said.

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