Shanghai show to measure progress of China's would-be Teslas

Yang Jian is managing editor of Automotive News China.Yang Jian is managing editor of Automotive News China.
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At least six startups funded by Chinese backers have hatched plans to develop high-performance electric vehicles.

They all want to be the next Tesla, but most of them have yet to reveal a single vehicle.

It's logical to wonder how much progress these companies have made. Well, the ideal place to check it out will be the Shanghai auto show, which opens on April 20.

The auto show's organizers have yet to disclose the list of exhibitors. But so far, two EV startups have announced what they plan to display.

One is NIO. Previously known as NextEV, the company says it will display a self-driving electric car concept dubbed EVE. Earlier this month, the EVE debuted in Austin, Texas, during the annual South by Southwest film festival.

The concept offers passengers a panoramic view and features an augmented reality display on the windshield. The company says it is designed to be a "secondary living space," allowing motorists to relax and enjoy the ride.

NIO was established in Shanghai in 2014 with financial backing from the founders of the automotive websites Bitauto and autohome. Its first production model, the NIO EP9 electric sports car, was unveiled in London in November.

Another startup is Hybrid Kinetic Group, a Hong Kong-based company controlled by Yeung Yung, the former CEO of Brilliance China Automotive Holdings.

Hybrid Kinetic told Chinese media that it will display three concepts in Shanghai next month.

One is a plug-in hybrid luxury sedan concept dubbed the H600. The car was designed by Italian design firm Pininfarina and was displayed this month at the Geneva auto show.

Hybrid Kinetic hasn't released details about its two other concept models.

Two more EV startups, Faraday Future and Qiantu Motor, also will participate at the Shanghai auto show, but we don't know what they will unveil.

Faraday, a California company funded by Chinese technology company LeEco, revealed the LeSee concept sedan at the Beijing auto show last year. And in January, Faraday rolled out its first production model, the FF 91 luxury sedan, at CES in Las Vegas.

Qiantu Motor, a company funded by private Chinese car design firm Beijing CH-Auto Technology Co., revealed a prototype electric sports car in Beijing last year. It is expected to show a production model in Shanghai.

Other startups likely to participate at the Shanghai show include Future Mobility and Karma Automotive.

Future Mobility, a company with the financial backing of China's internet giant Tencent Holdings, plans to launch sales of its first product in 2019. But it hasn't revealed any concepts or production models.

Karma Automotive was previously Fisker Automotive, a U.S. startup that marketed a plug-in hybrid sports car. Wanxiang Group, a major Chinese supplier, bought the bankrupt Fisker in 2014 and relaunched it as Karma.

Last year, Wanxiang received approval from the Chinese government to build a 2.5 billion-yuan ($360 million) assembly plant in the east China city of Hangzhou to build cars on the Karma platform.

The first product to be built there will be a two-door plug-in hybrid coupe known as the Karma Atlantic, according to the application Wanxiang submitted for government approval last year.

China's EV startups are ambitious, but they may have underestimated the challenges they face.

An EV assembly plant can cost as much as 6.9 billion yuan ($1 billion) to build -- much more than these startups estimate.

That's a lesson that Faraday Future learned the hard way. Last year, the startup halted construction on an assembly plant in Nevada due to a cash shortage.

And plant construction is only the first step. These companies have to get their products right, too. And as they do so, engineering costs may balloon.

So, how are these startups faring with their product design and engineering? We'll have to wait and go to the Shanghai auto show to find out.

You can reach Yang Jian at yangjian@autonewschina.com.

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