Geely Looks to Crack China’s High-End Electric Vehicle Market with New Startup Zeekr

Prominent Chinese carmaker Geely launched its premium electric vehicle (EV) brand Zeekr on Thursday with the unveiling of a new car model, which will now compete against a cohort of EV upstarts from American firm Tesla to local rival Nio for the top end of the world’s largest EV market.

The Zeekr 001, a four-door sedan, is based on Geely’s open-source Sustainable Experience Architecture platform introduced late last year and is purportedly capable of a 710 kilometer driving range. The starting price for the Zeekr 001 is 281,000 yuan ($43,047) after government subsidies, compared to 249,900 yuan ($38,284) for a Shanghai-made Tesla Model 3.

Designed in Sweden at Geely Design Gothenburg, the battery-powered car also provides air suspension that can automatically adjust ground clearance and aesthetically-appealing frameless automatic doors, SCMP reported. It uses a battery system with a lifespan of two million kilometers. 

It took Geely four years to create the first Zeekr 001 car. Last month, parent company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group and Geely Automobile announced that they would jointly plow 2 billion yuan ($307 million) into the premium brand. Zeekr’s chief executive An Conghui said at a launch ceremony on Thursday that the venture plans to release two new models each year over the next three years.

Flynn Chen, Zeekr’s vice president, said that the high-end, performance-oriented brand will explore innovative sales and marketing methods, including allowing customers to subscribe to car-using rights and offering a collective 4.9% stake in the company to car buyers, Reuters reported. Zeekr will use a direct sales model to manage pricing and inventory, Chen added. Zeekr plans to open more than one hundred stores this year.

Founded in 1996 by billionaire entrepreneur Li Shufu, Geely owns Swedish automobile marque Volvo Cars, British sports and racing car brand Lotus, and a 9.7% stake in Mercedes Benz-maker Daimler AG. The Hangzhou-based company is the country’s biggest manufacturer of locally-branded conventional automobiles and has shown solid ambitions of becoming a leader in the packed Chinese EV arena. Recently, it teamed up with Chinese search giant Baidu to create a standalone electric car company, and formed a collaboration with Tencent to develop self-driving technology.

SEE ALSO: Geely’s Lotus Seeks to Raise $1 Billion for Push into China’s Electric Vehicle Market

Last year, China delivered 1.17 million new-energy vehicles including pure-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel-cell cars. Research firm Canalys projects that in 2021, EV sales in China may reach 1.9 million units, marking a 51% surge year-on-year and a 9% growth of EVs within the country’s overall automobile market. 

Investor appetite for EV-related stocks has pushed the share prices of players including Tesla, Xpeng and Nio to levels that are punitively high. Hong Kong-listed shares of Geely surged as much as 8% to settle at HK$22.25 ($2.86) on Friday.