An ultra-cheap, mini EV is taking China by storm

China’s EV market is one of the most buoyant in the world with numerous home-grown start-ups vying for position alongside global giants like Tesla. The latest big thing, however, is actually very small and very cheap and it is outselling the US company’s Model 3 in a big way. It’s also something we could learn from.

It’s called the Hong Guang Mini EV and it is produced by China’s state-owned car conglomerate, SAIC Motor, which also owns MG. The Mini EV was created in a joint-venture with GM and has actually been flying out of the door since its launch early last summer with factories struggling to keep up with the sheer demand.

Some 112,000 were sold before 2020 was out and this popularity has continued unabated. The Hong Guang Mini EV outsells Tesla by two-to-one in native China with around 25,000 finding new homes each month. On a global scale, it’s the second best-selling EV on the planet with only Tesla’s Model 3 shifting more units.

The pertinent question is: Why?

Well firstly, let’s have a look at the Hong Guang Mini EV in a little bit more detail and understand its features…

On the powertrain and battery front it’s not quite in Tesla’s league, boasting an electric motor with just 17.4hp and 62.7lb-ft of torque. This makes it just about twice as powerful as the original 2CV and also makes it a veritable sportscar in comparison, being able to hit 62mph at the very top end.

Two battery sizes are available – standard and long-range versions, if you will. The smaller 9.2kWh battery makes most PHEV batteries look big, offering up 9.2kWh and around 70 miles of range. The long-range version has a 13.8kWh unit which means over 100 miles is possible on a charge. So it can’t quite compete with Tesla on range, either.

When it comes to space and interior features, the Mini EV goes for the ‘less is more’ vibe, in that at just 2917mm long and 1493mm wide, there’s much less of it than most EVs. Four people can fit in it, however, which is more than some EVs with fewer seats… As for creature comforts, it can be bought with air con, a stereo and electric windows. And that’s about it.

But here’s the real reason why it’s so unbelievably popular in China: It’s cheap.

A basic Mini EV will cost around £3k and a ‘fully-loaded’ one with the bigger battery is only around £1000 more. To put that into perspective, you could buy two basic Hong Guang Mini EVs for the cost of the comfort and connected upgrade pack on a Volvo XC40 Recharge and still have about £750 in your back pocket in change.

China has a huge population of upwardly mobile younger people, many of whom live in crowded urban settings. Getting some wheels is a big part of this upward mobility and the Mini EV is a cheap way of doing this. What’s more, the Chinese government is heavily incentivising zero-emissions cars, distributing free licence plates very quickly in places where it might take months to get one for a petrol car.

The country is serious about cleaning up its urban pollution problem, and the Hong Guang Mini EV is a part of this. It’s also something we could learn from here in Europe where we have congested, polluted urban centres filled with cars undertaking short journeys. The Mini EV is similar in concept to the Citroen AMI One and it’s a concept that makes a lot of sense.

SAIC has neither confirmed nor denied that it has plans to sell the Mini EV overseas, though some murmurings online suggest that if it can get type approval, it could head to Europe and latterly the USA. We certainly hope it does – and it can bring that price tag with it!

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