Creative approach gives Wuling edge over Tesla

By LI FUSHENG (China Daily)

Updated: 2021-03-15

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Electric Hong Guang vehicles are displayed at a Wuling event in Shanghai on March 4. CHINA DAILY

A mini-sized model from Chinese brand Wuling, the Hong Guang Mini EV, toppled Tesla's Model 3 as the world's best-selling electric car in January, with deliveries exceeding 36,000 in the month, more than those of the Model 3 and Model Y combined.

"The number will be even higher in February," said Zhou Xing, a senior executive of Wuling, a brand hailing from Liuzhou, a city in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Zhou did not expect such sales a year ago. "I thought it would be around 3,000 a month," he recalled last week.

Even more pessimistic were auto reporters. Scores of them were invited to share their views in March 2020, four months before the debut of the model priced from just 28,800 yuan ($4,427.68) and which has a range of 170 kilometers on one charge.

They argued that it would not sell in big cities where people prefer international brands and the chance would be slim in small towns as well, where people tend to choose gasoline vehicles.

These views were soon proved wrong. Within 200 days, 200,000 Hong Guang electric cars were sold, and the demand continues to soar, not only in China. "Businesspeople from over 150 counties and regions are asking us when we will sell cars there," Zhou said.

Statistics show that the majority of buyers are in smaller cities and towns, and 72 percent of the buyers are those born in the 1990s, and 60 percent of them are female.

If Tesla started its journey as a toy of the rich in California, Wuling's two-seaters (four-seaters are also available) can be regarded as the companions of young women in China's small towns.

The selling points are obvious: they are easier to park and maneuver for new drivers; the driving range, though short compared with others, it is more than enough for them to commute; they can be charged at home; they are cute and affordable.

With most owners being female, Wuling is adding a bit of fashion into its models. "We don't sell them like cars, but more like designer clothes," Zhou said.

Last week, the carmaker unveiled Macaron variants, which are available in three colors and released in cooperation with Pantone, the global authority on color and design.

"It is like a collection for different seasons. In the auto industry, it will take three years or so for a new vehicle to come out. So one of the few things we can do quickly is on color, and they like it," Zhou said.

Wuling is not stopping there. Many of its plans include unveiling co-branded vehicles with entertainment company Disney, and joining hands with other big names like sportswear brand Nike.

"So you see? It is about how you consider the electric car segment. Many followed suit by launching coupe-style sedans and SUVs resembling those of Tesla's. We did a different thing by focusing on the last miles of mobility," Zhou said.

He said the company is also going to launch e-bikes or scooters, adding Wuling does not see itself as a car manufacturer anymore. It aspires to become a creative, popular and boundary-free lifestyle brand.