All eyes on Xiaomi after it pulls off EV that Apple couldn’t

Posted on : 2024-04-19 18:11 KST Modified on : 2024-04-19 18:11 KST
The Chinese electronics maker’s launch of the SU7 has exceeded expectations, but many questions remain to be answered
Xiaomi’s SU7. (courtesy of Xiaomi)
Xiaomi’s SU7. (courtesy of Xiaomi)

Xiaomi revealed its first electric car, the SU7, on March 28. At the car’s launch ceremony, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun boasted that the vehicle’s performance well surpassed that of other companies’ electric cars, as well as revealing the vehicle’s unbelievable price tag of 215,900 yuan, or around US$29,800. 
The announcement shocked the automotive industry and sparked debate in the domestic automotive community focusing on whether they should take Xiaomi at its word when describing the specifications of the vehicle.
Many paid attention to the vehicle’s alleged maximum city driving range. The standard model, with a 299-horsepower motor at the rear wheel and a 73.6-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery from BYD, has a CLTC range of 700 kilometers. The Pro model, with a 94.3 kWh battery from Chinese battery maker CATL, the world’s largest battery supplier, increases the range to 830 kilometers. The top-of-the-line Max model has 675 horsepower from both front and rear motors, and 800 kilometers of range from a 101 kWh battery also from CATL.
Both the Pro and Max are topped with a fast-charging 800-volt system, with the Max only taking 19 minutes to charge from 10 percent to 80 percent. The Kia EV9, which has a similar 800V system and 99.8 kWh battery, takes 24 minutes to charge.
Even if only 80 percent of the vehicle’s CLTC range is recognized in Korea due to the high standards for EVs, the basic model can still drive 560 kilometers while the Pro can drive 664 kilometers. The Tesla Model S (AWD), which costs upwards of US$80,000, currently has the longest range in Korea at 555 kilometers. Compared to the Kia Niro Plus, which costs 50.8 million won and has a range of 392 kilometers, the Xiaomi SU7’s price and performance are remarkable. 

Interior of the SU7. (courtesy of Xiaomi)
Interior of the SU7. (courtesy of Xiaomi)

Only three years of manufacturing experience, already 800 patents
Some may argue that these specifications are impossible because Xiaomi has only been manufacturing electric vehicles for a very short period: three years. However, according to data from HI Investment & Securities, Xiaomi has, since 2012, more than 800 patents related to electric vehicles and autonomous driving, including smart cruise control and data processing.
Xiaomi also has a long history of developing various technologies related to EVs, including investing US $300 million in Chinese EV company Nio in 2014 and providing smart key solutions to another EV company, XPeng, in 2016.
The nature of Chinese industry largely impacted such developments. Park Jeong-gyu, an adjunct professor at KAIST’s College of Business, explained, “China is known for its speed with which it learns foreign technology and its capacity to create finished products swiftly through modularization.”
While China requires foreign companies to form joint ventures with Chinese companies when building automobile factories in China, Tesla was allowed to set up an independent factory. The exception was made on the condition that China would be able to learn the latest EV manufacturing technology.
The Chinese government expanded the EV market by providing huge subsidies and research grants to local companies, as well as being involved in the sales and registration of the vehicles, which explains the success of the world’s top-selling EV companies, BYD and Nio.
Park also cited China’s unique industrial culture of rapidly developing and selling a variety of products by collecting high-level parts of similar specifications that are recognized by the market. For example, the SU7 uses a platform called Modena, which utilizes parts from world-class German auto parts companies.
The body stabilizers and brake controller are from Bosch, driving aids like acceleration sensors are from Continental AG, and the variable dampers (which reduce vibration) are from ZF Friedrichshafen AG. The steering components are from American automotive supplier Nexteer Automotive.
The same goes for autonomous driving-related devices. The Max model has 14 cameras around the car, 12 short-range ultrasonic radars, a long-range radar in front and two blind-spot radars, and even a lidar on the roof (a device that uses lasers to identify objects around it). The information gathered through those devices is processed by two of Nvidia’s chips specifically for autonomous driving, the Nvidia Drive Orin.
Reservations on the first day alone surpass yearly production capacity
Baidu, the search engine often called China’s Google, and autonomous vehicle technology developer have, since 2013, been operating robot taxis across China and amassing data. The Financial Times reported in January that Baidu’s fleet of 500 robotaxis took 730,000 calls in Wuhan alone in 2023, compared to 700,000 trips by US self-driving car developer Waymo.
Some predict that China will surpass the US in self-driving technology within a few years. Xiaomi has also been collaborating with Baidu on AI since 2017. The addition of Baidu’s data to Xiaomi’s self-driving hardware could create a powerful synergy.
Xiaomi’s EV announcement caused a stir since it coincided with Apple’s decision to cancel its automotive ambitions. The Apple car was expected to create an ecosystem connected to iPhones and Apple TVs, offering a differentiated customer experience from traditional automakers.
However, experts believe that the slow development of autonomous driving technology and the difficulties surrounding the company’s policy of outsourcing production led to the abandonment of the business. On the other hand, the operating system of Xiaomi’s SU7 is compatible with the basic operating system of many home appliances it has sold. It seems that Xiaomi has been successful in fields that Apple failed in.
Some remain skeptical of Xiaomi’s EVs. There is footage of people driving the SU7 and crashing, questions of past quality issues from Xiaomi’s outsourcing company Beijing Automobile Works, and criticism surrounding the unrealistically low price range of the vehicles.
Aesop’s famous fable, “The Bird in Borrowed Feathers,” would’ve popped into many people’s minds after Xiaomi’s EV launch ceremony. Utilizing the best of the best, the SU7, with its lavish specifications, looks like a bird trying to reign supreme over all other birds by dressing up in the feathers of others.
However, the specifications revealed are one step up from those of current EVs, making them seem obtainable. China sold 7.5 million EVs in 2023 in China alone, which is more than the combined sales of EVs in the US (1.2 million) and Europe (1.5 million) in the same year.
Within a day of the SU7’s launch, nearly 90,000 contracts were signed, already exceeding this year’s production of 60,000 units. For the next two to three years, the vehicle will be sold exclusively in China, with the country being able to gain experience and a stable production capacity of more than 1 million units per year.
The real threat to us will come when they become able to export the car in stable mass production after dealing with initial problems. A well-made and inexpensive Chinese electric car has the potential to disrupt not only the domestic automobile industry, which relies heavily on the vehicle’s exports, but also related industries such as batteries. China will not be satisfied with their first attempt, so we should not lower our guard. The situation calls for us to analyze the Chinese EV market thoroughly and respond appropriately.

By Lee Dong-hee, automobile journalist and consultant


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