With a majority of automakers snubbing the upcoming auto show in Detroit, there’s not likely to be much to talk about in terms of new product beyond the next-generation Ford Mustang. But there are interesting things happening elsewhere on the planet if we’re using interesting as a polite euphemism for strange.
General Motors’ joint operation in China, SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., is releasing a poverty-tier convertible that makes the long-dead Chrysler Sebring look positively decadent by comparison. Based on the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV – a boxy microcar that only measures 114.8 inches in length – the Cabrio will be a limited production convertible requiring Chinese customers to participate in a lottery.
While Kei Cars have existed in Japan for decades (some of which actually seem to be great little automobiles), something this small is a rarity on the U.S. market and even kind of petite for the Japanese micro-segment.
For the sake of comparison, the diminutive and soon-to-be-extinct Chevrolet Spark that’s currently available on our market is a whopping 143 inches long. It’s also 2,300 pounds with a 98-horsepower engine, whereas the standard Hongguang Mini EV (below) clocks in around 1,466 pounds and produces just 20 hp in its base format. Though the Chinese automobile does offer a 40-horsepower option, which probably isn’t too bad on something that’s not much bigger than a golf cart.
According to the South China Morning Post, the two-seat Cabrio will retail for 40,000 yuan ($5,805 USD) and be capable of 124 miles between charges. A long-range variant costing 60,000 yuan ($8,707 USD) will also be offered, housing a battery pack good for an estimated 186 miles. The state-run outlet called the vehicle’s range a “game changer” for new and/or urban car buyers considering an all-electric vehicle.
“Low-priced pure electric cars with a driving range of about 300 kilometres [sic] could attract millions of urban residents,” said Gao Shen, an independent analyst from Shanghai speaking with the South China Morning Post. “Most young drivers will opt for a small EV with a modern design.”
The Cabrio was unveiled as a concept at last year’s Shanghai Auto Show, with Chinese media claiming it received a warm welcome. Despite the Mini EV becoming the Asian market’s most-popular electric model, nobody seems to have expected the Cabrio would be built. So SAIC-GM-Wuling has reportedly elected to keep production numbers down (between 100 and 200 examples) while running with the lottery scheme.
“The Hongguang and Cabrio EVs – and their likes – have a big market potential to tap in the coming years, because nearly 10 million university students graduate each year [in China],” said Phate Zhang, founder of the Shanghai-based EV news site CnEVpost. “Many of them want to own a car after they start working and a fancy convertible EV could be a first choice.”
I wouldn’t exactly call the Cabrio a “fancy convertible.” However, EV adoption has reportedly been increasing over the last several years and is rumored to be on pace to represent 30 percent of the market by 2023. Though it’s notoriously difficult to trust Chinese outlets, which are tied to a single-party government that wants to push battery-powered vehicles by any means necessary.
Considering the glut of expensive, giant-sized EVs hitting our market, I’d almost welcome something like the Hongguang Mini here. But the range is just too small for most people’s needs and the interior volume is unlikely to support a majority of would-be customers. Another issue is the fact that the Mini and Cabrio lack any form of fast charging, meaning drivers would have to spend anywhere from 6 to 9 hours (depending on battery size) waiting for the thing to recoup electricity on a 220-volt outlet. On the current models, the 9.3-kWh pack offers just 75 miles and the 13.8-kWh unit gives 106 miles between charges. But this is supposed to come up to the figures mentioned earlier in the article, based on the latest from SAIC-GM-Wuling.
Take all of the above with a side of caution. Several Western outlets have claimed the Cabrio is expected to retail closer to 100,000 yuan ($14,500 USD) and there are even some inconsistencies within the manufacturers’ own release pertaining to the range. Specifications aside, that’s basically what the Chevy Spark costs. Though I don’t suppose it matters because the Mini EV isn’t coming here in any format. Still, one wonders if there would be an appetite (no matter how small) due to the absolutely unhinged automotive pricing we’ve been witnessing across North America. It’d also probably make a better city car than the $110,295, 9,000-pound GMC Hummer EV and actually allow someone to make the claim they’re driving an electric to help the environment without inviting someone to laugh in their face.
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