SPORTS CARS

Qiantu to start making prototype high speed sports car next month

Chinese carmaker to begin production of K50 for testing as it aims to grab a share of the US electric vehicle market

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 4:51pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 2:26pm

Chinese car design company CH-Auto Technology is poised to begin making prototypes of its all-electric sports car with a top speed of 200 kph in September, as it aims to give Tesla Motor’s Model S and General Motor’s Volt a run for their money.

The K50, marketed under the Qiantu Motor brand, will be a two-seat roadster featuring a carbon fibre monocoque body similar to those used by Lamborghini’s Aventador sports cars. Powered by two electric motors with 400 horsepowers and 650 nm of torque, the K50 can accelerate up to 100 kph from standstill in 4.6 seconds, according to its specifications.

Qiantu will begin production next month of a few dozen K50s for testing, before ramping up production to a few thousand cars later as it prepares to make its debut in the US market, the world’s second largest by volume.

“We attach great importance to the US because of its size, and it is also an open market where we see opportunities for our car,” said Qiantu’s chairman Lu Qun, in an interview with the South China Morning Post. “We want to be there and compete with others.”

Regardless of whether Qiantu is “made in China or designed in China, we want to make Qiantu a premium and global brand which can meet international standards. If we cannot do this, we are not even competitive in the local market.”

The K50 has a clean and straight side profile which, together with its short overhang front and rear-end, make the lines of the roadster look more balanced.

Meng Fanlei, a designer at Qiantu, said the design was inspired by the curves of the human body. “We attached importance to the proportions of the car. We want the car to show the feeling of balance between yin and yang (polar manifestations of the Chinese philosophy Taoism), and also soft and hard,” he said.

The use of carbon fibre in the car has allowed more flexibility in design to make the body lines smooth and impressive, he said.

The Qiantu’s dragonfly logo, Meng said, presents an image of agility combined with power, and captures the Qiantu’s focus on environmental protection.

We want to make Qiantu a premium brand which meets international standards. If we can’t do this, we’re not even competitive in the local market
Lu Qun, chairman, Qiantu Motors

However, the K50’s price tag is still unknown. “It’s not simply a financial question, it is also related to the brand’s positioning,” said Lu. “So we have to be careful when it comes to pricing. We haven’t set the price today, but Qiantu will be a premium brand.”

Zhang Yu, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight, said it is difficult for a Chinese home-grown to position itself as a premium brand as consumers are not willing to pay too much for a Chinese brand.

“If Qiantu wants to draw the market’s interest, the price of the car must be very competitive and a lot lower than a Tesla,” Zhang said. In China, the price of a Tesla Model S starts from 657,000 yuan.

He said using aluminium and carbon fibre will inflate the production cost of the K50 to the point where it may not even be a profitable model for Qiantu.

“Starting with a roadster will help Qiantu draw people’s attention and build its brand awareness, but it has to develop more mass-market models which can be marketed at lower prices,” Zhang said.

According to Lu, an entry-level car for the mass market is scheduled to be launched a year after the K50’s debut. Qiantu plans to roll out as many as six new models over five years, with vehicles aimed at the mid-section of the market also in the pipeline.

Before founding CH-Auto in 2003, Lu was an engineer at Beijing Jeep, a venture between Chrysler’s Jeep unit and Chinese state-owned carmaker Beijing Auto Industry. The car design company set up Qiantu – which means “future” in Chinese – as Lu began to see the potential in China’s electric car market.

Starting with a roadster will help Qiantu draw people’s attention and build its brand awareness
Zhang Yu, managing director, Automotive Foresight

Funded mostly by it parent company, Qiantu set up a 2 billion yuan plant in February in eastern China’s Suzhou, a city more famous for its silk than its automotive industry.

The plan is to start mass production of a few thousands cars in the second half of 2017, Lu said.

The K50’s monocoque body and aluminum chassis will weigh less than 1,900 kg. The company said batteries are sourced from both domestic and global suppliers, without providing any names.

“Traditional carmakers do not need 2 billion yuan to build a factory like ours, but we want to make high-performance cars with new and lightweight materials, so we need our own moulding workshop and production facilities,” Lu said.

Qiantu isn’t the only Chinese company that’s thinking big about electric cars, or which has Tesla in its sights.

LeEco, a provider of television streaming services, said it too wants to get a piece of Tesla’s market and is planning a self-driving electric car through its auto unit. Auto startups including Future Mobility and NextEV, both backed by Tencent Holdings, are seen as Tesla’s challengers.

Existing players also include BYD, a southern China-based carmaker, in which Warren Buffet has a stake. The company last year sold 58,000 electric cars, mostly in China.

Most carbon fibre monocoque sports cars are powered by internal combustion engines. Tesla’s all-electric Model S sedan uses aluminium to keep its body weight low.

The only vehicle that currently uses a carbon fibre body with an electric motor is BMW’s i3, which has been on the market since 2014 and is seen as the closest competitor to K50. Selling for US$42,400 each, there are more than 21,000 i3s on the roads in the US.

“We want to make cars with quality that’s not second to Toyota and Volkswagen, and also close to the quality of Mercedes-Benz and BMW,” Lu said.

This story was amended to clarify the fact Qiantu will begin making prototype K50s in September, not cars ready for market

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