Representatives from SAIC Motor introduced a production electric vehicle called the Roewe E50 at this year’s Beijing Auto Show. This diminutive EV has been tested in the International Demonstration City located in Shanghai as part of a 200-unit fleet. SAIC has taken the next step with the Roewe E50 by announcing a broader release to Chinese customers by the end of this year. The Roewe E50 spent three years in research and development but drivers will be rewarded for their patience. SAIC established a retail price of 200,000 Yuan ($32,000) for this plug-in model with higher prices possible with optional features.
The Roewe E50 is built around a 47 kW electric motor as well as a 15 kWh battery pack from A123 Systems. These components have been specifically designed for a plug-in model rather than being lifted from a hybrid vehicle. SAIC has worked with Evonik to design a vehicle frame and components that significantly curtail curb weight. Evonik used PLEXIGLAS sheets as the base for rear windows, side windows and light covers. The firm also licensed out proprietary processes like ROHACEL and VESTAMID to create a hood that was lightweight but relatively flat. SAIC notes that this innovative hood is about 70% lighter than a comparable steel hood.
SAIC has been bullish about performance estimates for the Roewe E50 going back to the Beijing Motor Show. This two-door model can travel up to 112 miles per charge, which easily meets the needs of Chinese commuters. The Roewe E50 has a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour and could easily be marketed as a city car outside of China. Drivers will be able to access standard charging with a 220-volt system that requires eight hours of recharging. SAIC will also offer an optional quick-charge feature that brings the battery up to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes.
The Roewe brand is a luxury line for SAIC, which leads to mixed results for the automaker in the Chinese market. SAIC announced that about 1,000 units of the Roewe E50 will be sold by fall 2013. The firm has experienced frustrations in attempting to acquire Land Rover, deal with financial troubles at partner A123 Systems and expand beyond a handful of luxury sedans. SAIC should not abandon models like the Roewe 350, 550 and 750, which could act as Trojan horses into the Chinese market. The automaker created the Roewe E50 without referencing these four-door sedans but should consider the Trojan horse approach used by Volkswagen, Honda and Ford.
The market for all-electric vehicles in China remains a bit murky for domestic and foreign automakers. Wealthy and middle-class Chinese consumers might be interested in EVs if they come from brands that double as status symbols. The Chinese government makes investments in charging infrastructure and EV development but expends considerable resources on foreign sources of oil and natural gas. A slowdown in the Chinese economy has dampened early enthusiasm for alt-fuel and electric vehicles. SAIC must attract well-heeled early adopters to the Roewe E50 if only to generate revenue for further R&D efforts.