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China’s EV Is Booming, Auto-Pilot and Connected Car Still In Infancy
COVID-19 and China
NIO EP9 Model

Just waved goodbye to a tough year, we could still recall the shivering of the global economy from the beginning of October in 2018, hopefully, it could climb out of the muddy swamp and fly skyward fast enough. 2018 also witnessed the plunge of China's economy started from early June, the country's bitter economy environment has also cast a shadow over China's entire automotive industry. 

The Deterioration Of Traditional Car Manufacturers And The Sprouting Of EV

On the afternoon of December 11, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers in Beijing released statistics, from January to November, about China's automobile industry development. According to the data, in the first 11 months, automobile production and sales were 25.33 million units and 25.42 million units, down 2.6% and 1.7% respectively year-on-year. The Chinese automobile market has ended its 20-year high-speed growth in 2018 and started to settle. Mr. Zhang Ying(张鹰), partner of the Sinovation Ventures(创新工场), mentioned in the Workshop "Foreseeing 2019: Exploring The Investment Trends", "The automobile retail industry is particularly miserable this year, double digits negative growth rate appeared in several months." 

Nevertheless, even in time of traditional vehicle's poor performance, sales of EV have broken the record of a million this year. Judging by the data announced by China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, from January to November, the production and sales volume of EV were 1.05 million units and 1.03 million units, an increase of 63.6% and 68% year-on-year respectively.

After many years of exploration, preparation and accumulation, EV have finally found its timing for explosive expansion. In addition to Tesla's Model S, luxury car giants such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi have successively launched their EV products; New car manufacturers such as NIO(蔚来), XPENG Motors(小鹏汽车) and Welmeister(威马) also debuted their pure electric vehicles one after another; While traditional auto conglomerates like SAIC MOTOR(上汽), BYD Auto(比亚迪) and GAC MOTOR(广汽) also reorganized their product portfolio inclusive of highly revolutionized mid-to-high-end models such as Roewe Marvel X, BYD's Tang EV and GAC Aion S.

It took ten years from 2008 Olympic Games to the end of 2018 that EV has surpassed its 100 million set sales milestone; and for the very first time, leapfrogged out of the cramped corner of the market to the center of the stage, and it will persevere as a crucial force to lead the future Chinese car industry.

The China Society of Automotive Engineers released the "Eight Key Projects Implementation Plan for Medium and Long-term Development of the Automobile Industry" on November 6th at their annual meeting. In which states China's EV will exceed sales volume of 7 million by 2025, with 20 million EVs in use.

Abounding Opportunities Are Waiting Around the Corner, Who Will Win The Battle Between Traditional Car Companies Keen At Transformation And The Novel Ones?

Right after the announcement of China Association of Automobile Manufacturers in November. Chairman HE Xiao Peng(何小鹏)of Xiaopeng Motors officially launched their pure electric SUV model G3, also released the price and configuration of it. Until this moment, the first cluster of EV models developed by top three new car builders in China: NIO, Xiaopeng Motors and Welmeister, which are supported by Chinese big investors Baidu(百度), Alibaba(阿里) and Tencent(腾讯) group, have all realized commercialization. Smaller counterparts to these three, such as Byton(拜腾), Sitech Dev(新特), and Ai-ways(爱驰), have also seen the completion and delivery of their EV. The war-horn has officially been blown to ignite the battle that would be relentless and demands endurance.

Traditional Car Manufacturers Are Stepping-Up

Traditional giants had been accelerating their EV R&D and Production ever since the start of this year. Models like BAIC EU5, SAIC Roewe Marvel X, GAC GE3, Aion S and BYD Tang EV had been attracting a large audience since their debuts. In the luxury range, apart from Tesla Model S, Jaguar I-PACE, Mercedes-Benz EQC, Porsche Concept Car Taycan, and Audi e-tron have also embraced their loyal followers in 2018. 

Notwithstanding that the traditional car companies have entered the EV or hybrid car market, the business operation model feels reluctant to change, most of them are still pursuing the old-fashioned methodologies either in car body design or in sales and marketing.

Neoteric Car Enterprises established a well-orchestrated series of tactics in conjunction with building their own flagship stores instead of relying on 4S shops; OTA(On the Air) updates, Car Selecting and Ordering online, and self-built APPs offering multiple interacting activities for car owners. Discussions between different car manufacturers about the realization of mass production can often be seen in media and newspapers. This lent convenience to potential buyers in China to deepen their comprehension of the configurations and the features of the cars manufactured, and the ever-updating news and reports about these companies also pictured the burgeoning development of the EV industry in China, hence brand awareness is well achieved.

How Far Can You Go?-A Brief Investigation On Charging Solutions

The "Achilles' heel" for pure electric vehicles has to be the obstacle faced by most of the EV manufacturers-how to increase EV's charging efficiency?

Welmeister mentioned in website that power capability of their cars could be elevated to 80% from 30% within merely 30 minutes if the fast-charging mode is applied; While Xiaopeng Motors brags about 80% power capacity under 20 minutes, it also plans to construct more than 1000 supercharging stations in the next 3 years; Tesla's model S requires more than one hour to be charged to 80%; Comparing with Tesla, NIO enjoys a slight competitive edge thanks to its ability in shrinking the time needed under one hour.

As most of other EV is powered utilizing charging piles; NIO, per contra, has introduced all-together three charging solutions. First one being the commonly used charging pile; While the second offers mobile charging, namely, car owners could call for aid from the mobile charging vehicle if hindered by insufficient power supply en route to a destination. The mobile charging car could serve as an emergency solution as it could meet any urgent demand via enabling the car to drive 100 miles more within 10 minutes. Claiming to be able to fundamentally solve the problem of EV being out of power, the ultimate solution NIO promoted is battery replacement. Through parking the car into its modern, state of the art power station, within 3 minutes of fully automatic operation, the car is fully powered up and ready to fly. Nio officials said that it will set up 1,100 such power stations in cities to remedy car owners' problems.

Inspired by NIO's cleverness, many other car companies in China would become copycat, and soon enough, NIO's innovation of speedy charging technology will have no advantage anymore. After all, battery replacement is solely a concept, the operation and implementation is not rocket science; the "Technology Barrier" has not yet reached the height that could effectively block its counterparts from entering the competition. 

De facto, fundamentally, the performance of batteries for EV is of vital importance, which requires extravagant attention. Being able to replace the battery in an emergency situation can not necessarily put car owners 100% at ease. Ultimately, the improvement of the battery performance and the extension of the lasting time of a battery can function is the core task everyone should be focusing on. 

Where Is The Future Beyond "Energy Transformation" For Cars?

The quality standards for EV manufactured by most traditional car enterprises are, to some extent, identical to each other; while technology in the connected car and non-pilot driving has not yet shed a light upon any of these companies.

As a matter of fact, not only the traditional car companies in the transitional period but the industry-wide-recognized leader Google, cannot endorse its autopilot technology installed in Waymo with complete confidence. Frequent reports of traffic accidents caused by not-so-reliable autopilot technology reveal that these technologies have not reached the maturity stage. Many major car manufacturers in China have already partnered with navigation product providers such as AotuAI and TSP (Telematics Service Provider) service providers, but whether the cooperation is fruitful or not remains a question mark.

At present, Connected Vehicles are still serving chiefly the car owners and car manufacturing companies. The major tasks for these companies in the current stage are to accumulate car owner's behavioral data, feed the data to car companies to achieve user experience optimization. The data is not yet shared with the traffic management and control departments, or the governments.  Therefore, the broader and more complicated "network" formed between car owners, controlling units and government and car manufacturers is far away from establishment.

The ideal experience for all lies in "perfect harmony under strict regulation", that is, the occupancy rate of unmanned vehicles on the road becomes 100%, and the last line to break prior to the achievement of this is the government. Full-scale upgrade of the entire transportation network is impossible in the short term due to, fundamentally, the limitations in advanced driver-assistance systems. In addition, the conservative sentiment that the Chinese government often holds in the face of many newly-emerged technologies and fresh concepts will possibly lead to a later intervention from government. The government is estimated to be closely monitoring the development of technology until it grows mature enough to be safely utilized and supported. However, if existing roads could be reorganized before this phase arrives, for instance, opening a separate lane for autonomous vehicles to protect them from conflicts when mingled with human-drove cars.

 

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