Shanghai-based EV start-up, Aiways, might be just a baby in car brand terms, but despite its mere four years of existence it has lofty ambitions: Aiways is aiming to be the first Chinese EV manufacturer to sell its vehicles in Europe.
China has a fairly well developed EV market thanks to the fact that it is open and geared up to them, and a government which has invested $60bn in the last decade to support the industry. In fact, the Chinese bought more EVs than the rest of the globe combined in 2018, and this trend is only likely to continue. Despite considerable expertise, Chinese brands haven't made much headway outside of the domestic market which is where Aiways comes in.
Aiways is planning to enter the European market with its U5 pure electric SUV in early 2020. Initially, it will sell the model in Germany, France, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands, and it is going to eschew the traditional franchised dealer network when doing so. Selling the U5 directly to consumers via its website or through leasing companies completely removes the hefty requirements of a dealer network, whilst partnering with large aftersales companies will ensure maintenance can be covered comprehensively in each market.
It's a novel approach, but Aiways is confident that the sub 40,000 Euro (currently translates to almost £36k) U5 will be tempting enough a proposition to attract buyers away from the traditional system of purchase and maintenance. And whilst it might be a struggle, market disruptors need to start somewhere!
To help demonstrate the U5's capabilities and suitability for the European market Aiways is undertaking a mission which is part publicity stunt and part proving exercise – it has just set off on the old Silk Road linking Europe to Asia. A pair of U5s have set off from Xi'an in China and will complete an epic 8843 mile trek, finishing in September in Frankfurt in time for IAA 2019.
The mission actually forms part of Aiways' testing programme and a team of engineers will accompany the two test cars, monitoring and assessing performance in some of the world's toughest settings such as the Gobi desert, plains of Kazakhstan, the Alps and numerous cities. This data will be fed back into the final development phase to enable fine-tuning in preparation for going on sale in Europe in April 2020.
Alexander Klose, Executive VP Overseas Operation at AIWAYS, comments: “This unprecedented drive presents a unique chance to validate and fine-tune key aspects of the U5, from powertrain characteristics to the durability of thousands of components. By traversing thousands of kilometres in some truly challenging conditions we will demonstrate how simple and easy EV ownership can be for today’s car buyers.”
Upon completion of the challenge, the Aiways U5 will set the record for the longest ever single EV prototype drive, but it will require quite a few charges. On the NEDC cycle the Aiways U5's 63kWh battery gives it a range of around 285 miles, so over the 8843 mile record-breaking drive the absolute best-case scenario is 31 charges.
Let's just hope there are regular fast chargers in the Gobi desert...
If you have seen our Frankfurt Motor Show report you will know that Aiways did indeed successfully complete its mammoth journey from China to Germany. Along the way it covered 9930 miles through 12 countries in 53 days, and to top off the achievement, the Chinese carmaker gained the Guinness World Record for the longest journey by a prototype electric vehicle.