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China’s Zeekr hits high growth trajectory with its latest electric van

Chinese electric vehicle brand Zeekr has grabbed the spotlight again after unveiling one of the finest luxury vans Chinese consumers can buy. The company says it is seeking to end the dominance of multinationals in the Chinese market, where dealers charge significant markups for similar offerings.

“This is among our top missions,” said Andy An, chairman of Geely Auto Group and chief executive of Zeekr, at a press event on April 19, calling the status quo “irrational” (our translation). An added that Chinese car brands now offer best-in-class luxury and safety as the market makes a transition to smart EVs. Dubbed “a royal suite” on wheels and a fully-electric answer to the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the Zeekr 009 Grand costs only a fraction of the models that comprise BMW’s luxury lineup and costs less than the Toyota Alphard, one of its key competitors, at a price tag of only RMB 789,000 ($108,961).

The launch comes as Geely’s EV unit sees strong and continuous demand for its products on its home turf and is set to embark on a major push into global markets. The latest sales figures show that the Zeekr 001 has overtaken Tesla’s Model 3 as the best-selling battery-powered sedan in the Chinese premium car segment, as the company maintains its annual delivery target of 230,000 units for this year.

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A Zeekr 009 Grand was displayed in a showroom in Shanghai on Saturday, April 21, 2024. Credit: Zeekr

China’s answer to the Rolls-Royce Cullinan

The Zeekr 009 Grand boasts a combination of sophisticated craftsmanship and cutting-edge technologies and is geared towards the demands of Chinese celebrities and business leaders. Among the mesmerizing features include “curtain” glass that presents as pitch-black in less than two seconds and a single-click mode that deletes users’ travel history and contact data, designed to provide security and privacy. 

Zeekr is also upgrading its “giga-casting” technology, a technical term from Tesla that describes a process to diecast almost all vehicle underbody parts as one to improve car body stiffness. With the two rear seats coupled with die-cast vehicle frames in a C-shape formation, safety tests have concluded that the van’s interior remains intact following a rear-end collision by a 2.3-ton trailer at 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph), according to a video clip presented by the company. 

With only one variant, the 009 Grand has a driving range of 702 kilometers (436 miles) based on City Light Test Cycle (CLTC) standards, despite having more powerful motors than its original version.

The Chinese automaker says its four-seater outperforms the Rolls-Royce Cullinan in on-road performance with the adoption of artificial intelligence algorithms and adaptive dampers and air springs to smooth the ride, technology also embraced by BYD and Huawei. While Chinese carmakers from Li Auto to Great Wall Motor are carving out this increasingly important niche market, Zeekr said its special-edition 009 is winning customers over with its craftsmanship and quality materials, rather than with a more superficial luxurious design. 

Quest for growth amid slower EV uptake

Zeekr is emerging as one of the few Chinese EV makers bucking the trend of turning to plug-in hybrids in the middle of a bumpy transition to new energy vehicles (NEV), while aiming for strong growth despite an overall sluggish EV demand sentiment. The company just delivered more than 4,900 Zeekr 001 shooting brakes in the first two weeks of April, compared with roughly 2,100 units of Tesla’s Model 3 during the same period, according to figures compiled by Sun Shaojun, founder of Chinese consumer behavior research agency CarFans. 

Earlier figures also indicated sustained growth momentum as the revamped 001 pocketed roughly 30,000 non-refundable orders within 30 days of its launch on Feb. 27. BYD, Huawei-backed Aito, and Zeekr outperformed other brands in terms of new orders in the last week of March, Jefferies analysts said in an April 9 note. The companies have benefited from a spillover effect, as Xiaomi’s Porsche-alike sedan becomes a phenomenon, garnering huge attention for the smartphone giant as well as more established rivals. 

An told reporters during an interview that the long-term picture of the ongoing EV transition remains positive, with Zeekr maintaining a delivery target of 230,000 vehicles for 2024, almost double the nearly 119,000 units it achieved last year. It plans to enter dozens of countries in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia this year, having started exports to Europe, the Gulf Bay area, and parts of Asia late last year. “In our view, Geely is at full steam for the EV race and overseas expansion with competitive NEV product offerings and an established global footprint,” Jefferies analysts said on March 27.

READ MORE:Interview: Zeekr executives on the 001 FR supercar, autonomous driving, and overseas plans

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