There are lots of EVs coming out in America at this very moment, and lots more planned for the future, but the EV scene is a whole lot more interesting in China. That and more in The Morning Shift for April 15, 2021.
1st Gear: Xpeng Is Ready To Take On Tesla
I adore this Wall Street Journal profile of He Xiaopeng, the co-founder of the Chinese EV startup Xpeng. It shows He to be a happy warrior when it comes to the serious business of taking on Tesla, which has been aggressively expanding in China. Xpeng currently has three production models, including the P5, a sedan which was unveiled Wednesday, in addition to the G3, an SUV, and the slick-looking P7, a sedan.
Xpeng thinks it can challenge Tesla with better tech, like with lidar for semi-autonomous driving, a tech which Tesla CEO Elon Musk rejects. Xpeng currently sells about a fifth of the number of cars Tesla does in China, or 13,340 in the first three months of 2021. Still, He is confident Xpeng can improve on that, and others seem to agree.
XPeng is in a strong position as a car company whose main asset is its software, [Tu Le, founder of Sino Auto Insights, a consulting firm] said. “The post-1990s generation in China are all digital natives, and they like Chinese brands,” he said. “What XPeng is doing plays very well with that young Chinese consumer.”
At a moment of rising nationalism in China, homegrown brands have generally been gaining ground on Western ones among local consumers, from clothing to cars.
Xpeng’s road has not always been smooth but He seems down to earth about it all.
Mr. He said he only fully realized the difficulty of teaming software engineers with car mechanics when the company produced its first working prototype in late 2017.
The XPeng team was moved to tears when the vehicle rolled out: Engineers wept with joy because the machine worked, while the software developers were heartbroken because to them the unpainted and incomplete test-model “looked like trash,” Mr. He said.
The experience taught Mr. He and his software colleagues that developing a competitive car would be an arduous, yearslong process.
Best, though, is He’s gentle ribbing of Musk, who can be a thorny challenge for those wishing to deliver a classy insult, though He passes the test with flying colors.
In November, Mr. Musk trashed XPeng’s autonomous-driving system, saying on Twitter that “they have an old version of our software” and alleging that intellectual-property theft “was just an XPeng problem. Other companies in China have not done this.”
Mr. He fired back on Weibo. “It seems XPeng’s next-generation autonomous driving architecture…has made someone in the West feel very upset,” he said.
“Elon Musk is an amazing person and a great entrepreneur, despite some flaws,” Mr. He said in the Wednesday interview. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.
2nd Gear: Meanwhile, Zeekr
We first heard about Zeekr, Geely’s new electric car marque in China, last month. Bloomberg now has a bit more on what Zeekr will look like, which is basically like every other entrant in the battle for the EV market in China, the biggest in the world.
Zeekr Co., which will be run independently, is seen as combining the characteristics of a tech company with Geely’s carmaking expertise, Geely President Andy Conghui An said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. He said that will give it an edge against a new wave of potential rivals from the tech industry, which could see cars become like a piece of hardware that is constantly improved with software upgrades.
“We see Zeekr cars as mobility terminals,” An said. “What we aim to do is to provide users with products and experience that go beyond their expectations.”
Geely, which has spent four years developing the first Zeekr 001 car, will start deliveries in September, and has a target of up to 8,000 sales in the fourth quarter. That is seen rising to more than 50,000 in 2022 after two more models are added, An said.
Zeekr plans to be a straight like-for-like luxury competitor to Tesla, Nio, and others in China, though its ambitions are also far beyond that.
Geely will also use the Zeekr moniker to venture into a more user-centered, lifestyle approach to the car market, An said, mimicking the approach of Nio, which has special clubhouses for drivers and built customer loyalty through events and merchandise like clothing and food. Geely will create its own eco-system around Zeekr, offering branded products such as furniture, clothes and drinks, An said.
“I spent some time to think about Tesla and other new players in our industry, and even some companies outside of the industry,” he said. “The intelligent electric-car industry has no boundary.”
The aim is to build Zeekr into a global brand, with exports to Europe slated to start in late-2022 or early 2023, and the U.S. after that, An said.
Geely has done much better than most expected with Volvo, which it bought over a decade ago now, and for that reason alone it’s hard to count them out.
3rd Gear: Meanwhile, Hyundai
You can also add Hyundai to the list of companies getting in on the China EV market, per Reuters:
South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group said on Thursday it plans to launch electric vehicles (EVs) in China every year starting 2022 to enhance its presence in the world’s biggest car market.
The South Korean auto group said it plans to unveil a total of 21 EV models from Hyundai Motor Co and Kia Corp by 2030, including hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles.
4th Gear: Meanwhile, Polestar
The Volvo-owned EV brand, which makes the excellent Polestar 2, said Thursday that it had raised $550 million in outside money for new car development. Yes, for China.
“Our new investors have recognized that Polestar offers an alluring combination of established industrial and technological capability alongside superlative growth potential as the global auto industry goes electric,” Polestar’s CEO Thomas Ingenlath said in a statement.
The funding will help accelerate product development and output as Polestar prepares to launch new car models in the coming years, the company said.
Polestar builds hybrid performance cars in the western Chinese city of Chengdu and a sedan model at its Taizhou plant in the east. It also has a new model in development called Precept, a larger, more environmentally friendly sedan that it displayed at last year’s China auto show.
Chinese investors Chongqing Chengxing Equity Investment Fund Partnership and Zibo led the funding and were backed by South Korean investor I Cube Capital, Polestar said.
Considering the billions thrown around in the EV startup world, $550 million is almost quaint, but I’ve always appreciated Polestar’s slow and steady approach.
5th Gear: Nature Is Healing
The Australian airline Qantas said Thursday it now expects domestic air travel to not only return to pre-pandemic levels by next year but, in fact, exceed them.
A return to 90% of pre-pandemic domestic capacity in the fourth quarter ending June 30 will allow it to report positive cashflow and begin repairing a balance sheet burdened by extra debt that helped get it through the pandemic, Chief Executive Alan Joyce said on Thursday.
Growth in domestic capacity is expected to continue into fiscal 2022, with low-cost brand Jetstar reaching 120% of pre-COVID levels and Qantas projected to be at 107%, the airline said.
Joyce said he was not prepared to say whether Qantas could return to a profit in fiscal 2022 on the back of the strong domestic capacity forecast.
“A lot depends obviously on whether the domestic borders stay open, a lot depends on when international starts, if New Zealand stays open a lot,” he said.
I know a lot of people, myself included, are going to hop on the first flight anywhere as soon as it’s safe and borders open up as the pandemic eases. I will probably go to JFK and say that I’ll take one international flight, please.
Reverse: Watch For Ice
Neutral: How Are You?
The high will be in the mid-60s in New York City for the next two weeks, this is easily the best part of the year.