Electric cars

Another Chinese Tesla wannabe? This one may be different

With a production licence and its own factory, Yudo Auto stands out from most of China’s electric-vehicle makers. Its first car, the π1 is a solid offering

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 8:22pm

Spurred on by Beijing’s drive to go electric, the last few years have seen a slew of companies spring up with plans to enter the burgeoning new-energy vehicle market. Along with a desire to cut pollution and reduce reliance on imported oil, China hopes to position itself as a world leader in electric vehicles, something it has struggled to achieve with petrol-powered cars.

To encourage sales, the government offers research and development grants and consumer subsidies, and has exempted new-energy vehicles from ownership quotas in its bigger cities.

Many of the new companies on the scene come from a technology background and have plans to produce Tesla-style competitors. However, so far only 15 have been licensed to produce cars and even fewer have cars on sale.

One of the few that do is Yudo. Unlike Nio, which recently launched its ES8 model to much fanfare, Yudo Auto has a production licence and its own factory. It also has a car aimed at the masses. The π1, launched in October, comes in two versions – the “City Range” and “Long Range” – and prices after government subsidies range from 74,900 yuan to 114,900 yuan.

Yudo claims that at a constant 60km/h the different versions can travel 200km and 330km respectively. Along with increased battery capacity, the “Long Range” version gains a more powerful 85-kilowatt electric motor which helps offset the 100kg increase in weight.

So far Chinese sales of new-energy vehicles have largely been of smaller all-electric cars and usually to car-sharing schemes. The π1 fits nicely into this demographic, being a small car with generic SUV-type styling.

For the price point, and especially considering this is Yudo Auto’s first ever car, the quality is reasonable. External panel-fit is acceptable and inside, the forward area of the dashboard uses soft touch plastics, although the rest is hard plastic. While the glove box doesn’t open as smoothly as it could, it is much better than the quality of early new-energy offerings from BYD and better than the current Chery eQ.

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In the rear, legroom is acceptable but headroom is poor, with anyone taller than about 175cm hitting their head on the roof. Because the battery pack is under the rear bench, the seating position is higher than in the front seats and the seats do not fold down flat. The boot floor is sturdy but the sides are quite flimsy.

On often poor road surfaces the suspension remained composed, largely soaking up bumps. Good acceleration allows the car to be more than a match for other city traffic, and reasonable all-round visibility means nipping in and out of lanes is not fraught. Despite the car’s diminutive size – just over four metres long , and 1.62 metres high – a potentially problematic high centre of gravity – body-roll is limited under normal conditions.

One of the reasons cited for the wave of new entrants to the new-energy vehicle field is that they can do new technology better than the legacy car producers. Yudo Auto’s name in Chinese, Yundu (云度), alludes to this, with the “yun” part meaning cloud. However, for some reason the internet on the test car was disconnected, meaning the map display was stuck on Beijing’s Forbidden City, because it is connection-dependent for navigation. Top-spec versions come with an iPad-like removable display. This has some unusual features, such as acting as a dashcam. Surprisingly though, when reversing, the rear-view appears on a small screen built into the main instruments. These, along with a digital speedometer, come with battery status and range-remaining indicators.

Underneath the touch screen are three dials to control the heating and air conditioning. These are quite tactile making them relatively easy for the driver to operate while moving. As unfortunately seems to be the case with many electric cars, the windows have a tendency to mist up and the demisting system requires air to be noisily blasted, leading to a constant battle between the two evils. With air conditioning selected, the indicated remaining range drops by 6km.

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Direction is simply selected by a dial in the centre tunnel between the two seats and offers reverse, neutral and drive. Next to the D position is an E which presumably stands for “economy”. When selected, there was little discernible difference and the remaining range indicated did not change. More expensive electric cars have energy recovery systems (KERS) which mean that when you take your foot off the accelerator the car slows quite rapidly, recycling the energy to the battery. The π1 has no such system.

Overall, the car is a solid offering that will appeal to car-sharing schemes and first-time car buyers in large cities with number plate restrictions. However, a question mark remains over its safety; currently it has no rating under C-NCAP – a Chinese car safety assessment programme – and this is the first ever car from the manufacturer, so there’s no track record to refer to.

The main shareholders are state-owned companies and the local government of Putian, in Fujian Province. Time will tell whether these partners have the necessary connections in the new-energy vehicle world to make Yudo a sales success.