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BMW flogs its BEV in China and Tesla hits some potholes

June 28, 2014

I was in Chongqing a few weeks ago. Boy has that city changed since I first visited it in 2003.

Chongqing is quite a bit more developed than in 2003!

Chongqing is quite a bit more developed than in 2003!

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I was on an EV panel at the 2014 China Auto Summit http://mktsummit.org , and also visited the Chonqqing Auto Show on media day.

What a pleasant change from Auto China. I could actually walk around without shoving through crowds of “journalists.” Of course, the Chongqing show is considerably smaller than Auto China and also is consumer-oriented – visitors can actually buy cars there. Since I was in town anyway, however, it was well worth the visit.

I went to a few press conferences, but mainly I just walked around and looked at car and for electric vehicles. I saw lots of cars, but found only one EV, the Zinoro E1, a pure electric vehicle produced by the BMW Brilliance joint venture. http://tinyurl.com/qf4lpbu

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(I do not count the Lexus CT200h regular hybrid in the EV category but it had a big stand all to itself in Chongqing.)

Oliver Liang, Brand Management Director for BMW Brilliance Zinoro China, was a fellow panelist at the Summit so I already knew something about the marketing plan for the 1E. I picked up several pamphlets at the show, as well. The car itself is nice-looking enough. But what impressed me is the thought BMW Brilliance has put into the marketing plan, which centers on the concept of “worry free.”

The vehicle is only available to be leased. It offers 1, 2, or 3-year or daily rental plans. Costs are respectively RMB11, 000/month, 9,000/month, 7,400/month, or RMB 400 a day. “We have prepared a range of convenient, worry-free services and flexible rental plans tailored to meet urban and individual needs,” said the pamphlet.

It includes a free maintenance package and warranty since Chinese consumers worry about the maintenance costs of a car with new technology such as an EV. “You will be able to keep your Zinoro 1E in optimal condition without incurring additional maintenance costs,” said the pamphlet.

If the car does need to go into the shop, Zinoro provides a free loaner car, and in the “rare event” of a breakdown, offers year-round, 24-hour roadside assistance as part of the lease.

China has few public charging spots. And who wouldn’t rather charge at home anyway? So the lease includes a wall-mounted charging unit and free installation (up to RMB 12, 0000).

The 1E became available for lease in December of 2013. It is currently only available in Shanghai and Beijing though I suppose someone from another city, say Hangzhou, could lease one in Shanghai and drive it home. If they could find charging stations along the way….

It will be interesting to see if this plan succeeds in moving some electric metal for BMW Brilliance Zinoro.

Tesla discovering China’s special characteristics

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting a stream of Chinese-language messages from Tesla on my Weixin feed concerning launch plans and services in China. But remember a blog I wrote a while back regarding issues Tesla would likely face in China, especially where building a charging infrastructure was concerned?

Well, anecdotal evidence and actual evidence suggests Tesla is off to a bit of a rocky start in China.
First the actual evidence. An e-commerce entrepreneur in Inner Mongolia smashed the windshield of his new Model S to protest glitches in the delivery process. Now that was a bit silly. But this is China. Buyers of an RMB 1 million BEV don’t like to feel slighted. http://tinyurl.com/mb2asho

Now the anecdotal stuff: A friend has a neighbor who bought a Model S with the 85 kWh battery. Charging does not seem to be a big issue for this new owner, for now. He lives close to Hongqiao Airport, and works in Anting, which is not that far from Hongqiao. One of Shanghai’s two fast-charging stations is in Anting (the other is in Pudong). So the Tesla owner can charge while at work, for now.

That may change if Tesla ownership reached the levels Tesla has predicted and competition for charging spots emerges. But I guess Tesla plans to add more charging stations if permitted. The owner also has a garage, so he can charge at home overnight.

Other aspects are not so sanguine. First, some interesting details about the licensing and tax: He was exempt from the license plate cost, which is at RMB 70,000 in Shanghai right now. But he did still have to pay the import tax. So the total cost of the Model S was RMB 1,000,000! Tesla touted its fair price policy of charging only RMB 734,000 for the Model S based on the following breakdown. So I guess there was an extra expense Tesla missed.
$81,070 US price
$3,600 Shipping & handling
$19,000 Customs duties & taxes
$17,700 VAT
734k CNY @ 6.05 exchange rate

Also a problem Tesla may not have anticipated – the touchpad for the infotainment control system doesn’t fully function in China. GPS, traffic, mapping of locations don’t work, said my friend. Neither does over-the-air updates, which will be a real problem as Tesla issues those rather frequently.
I sent an email to Tesla here in the U.S. asking how it planned to resolve these issues and hadn’t heard back at time of posting. I will add that info if/when I get it.

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