Autocar decided to dwell on the success of the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV in China. In a country with a Tesla factory, it could seem strange that a small and limited electric car is selling more than the Model 3. The Wuling is a much cheaper vehicle, for sure, but that does not explain it all. A change in driving habits would be the main cause, according to Jim Holder.
Curiously, we have recently encouraged you to read a Byron Hurd’s text about the commuting culture. The author argued the COVID-19 pandemic showed we could avoid it for people that do not need to leave their homes to work. Although both things may not seem related, they are.
Holder starts his text by talking about the pandemic implications in China and how the EV market share there grew less than it did worldwide in 2020. Then he stresses that there is an expectation that they will increase their slice there by 50 percent, which would make them correspond to 10 percent of new car sales. Although the Model Y is already for sale there, the Mini EV would be the star in such a growth process.
The affordable little electric car is part of the Hongguang family, which started with a minivan in 2010. That’s similar to what Ford did with the Mustang and the Mustang Mach-E: associate a new product with a known nameplate. Now in its second generation, the Hongguang has the Hongguang Plus (a larger and more expensive derivative) and the Hongguang Mini EV.
Without naming the reasons for its success or why it indicates a change in driving habits, Holder points to the car’s success as a sign that it will happen everywhere, something in which export plans for the Wuling will help. But will that happen?
Its success in China is intriguing to everybody. The Mini EV is a good replacement for bikes and motorcycles. It is something to buy groceries, go to the doctor, and even pick up the kids at school (if you trust it is a safe machine).
Someone could argue it is also well suited for commuting, but even that would imply a change in the way people go to the office every day. The Mini EV is not a flashy car to make your neighbors or peers envious of your achievements, like a business card on wheels. It is basic short-range personal transportation.
If small cars were the best way to do that, Daimler would have never tried to sell Smart and eventually made a partnership with Geely. European and even American cities would be crowded with Fortwos or Forfours, and the company would be a gold mine. That’s not what happened.
One component Smart cars did not have and the Wuling does is the low price. That made people choose to buy larger vehicles for the same value, probably to have literally more car for the money. Yet, that would make the Wuling sell way less than it currently does in its home market – or the Ora R1, the world’s cheapest EV, be a hit from day one.
There’s something about the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV that no review so far has managed to understand. It seems to be as trendy in China as the original Mini was in the UK. With that in mind, we confess we missed Holder making a parallel between the Chinese EV and the original Mini. It exists even in the name, although the tiny 12-inch wheels with 145/70 R12 tires made an immediate connection between them – and they are larger than the 10-inch wheels Alec Issigonis managed to put in the Mini.
The dimensions are also very similar: 2.92 meters for the Wuling and 3.05 m for the first Mini. Both also seat four people and are extremely light. The Mini EV weighs 665 kg, while the Mini started its career with 580 kg – something the Dacia Spring proved to be crucial for energy efficiency. The main difference is that the Wuling is a rear-wheel-drive car, while the Mini turned the front-wheel-drive into the standard for small combustion-engined cars.
Although Holder did not refer to the death of commuting as the COVID-19 pandemic presented, it seems a perfect fit. If people just have to move around for daily tasks, they do not need much more than what the Mini EV offers.
Remembering another story, this is the only situation in which Markus Duesmann would be right about smaller battery packs. Audi’s CEO claimed EVs would stop chasing bigger batteries and more range, but that only makes a change of habits when it comes to daily transportation needs. Road trips will still demand that family cars have more range.
Anyway, the Autocar text shows the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is a phenomenon that still needs a decent explanation. May Chinese market analysts present more information on why it is going so well there and why it could be successful in other markets. We’re waiting.