Will Chinese ‘Super-long-range’ Tesla-killers Actually Kill Tesla?

Tesla with its Model 3 has long been regarded as a benchmark for smart EVs, and its position seems unshakable. However, as Chinese NEV companies grow muscle, their output also becomes more capable of rivaling Tesla, perhaps not comprehensively, but definitely on certain fronts. 

Guangzhou-based Xpeng is one of those companies. It’s latest sports sedan, the P7, packs a battery that can last 706km on one charge under NEDC conditions. The top version of Tesla’s Model 3, on the other hand, has a driving range of only 668km. 

However, on the same day, the P7 started officially selling, another young Chinese EV-maker, WM Motor, published a set of preview posters with a silhouette of a new pure electric sedan and just one fact – driving range of 800km.

Weimar’s first pure electric car will debut on May 10. According to official information, apart from the maximum range of 800km, it will also support 5G and L4 automatic parking.

The new Xpeng and WM Motor cars seem to have started a rivalry that will certainly see more local EV-makers try to beat their driving range records. Yet, it is still unclear if it’s safe to buy into the “super-long-range” concept at this early stage. 

“There is no doubt that battery technology has improved tremendously over the last few years, as far as range, electricity consumption and power battery system energy density are concerned. These for battery electric passenger vehicles have improved from 160 km, 17 kWh/100 km and 95 Wh/kg in 2015 to 350 km, 14 kWh/100 km and 150 Wh/kg in 2019, respectively. So I think it was only a matter of time that you would see these type of ‘super-long-range’ EVs come out,“ said Lei Xing, chief editor of China Automotive Review and an expert on China’s auto industry. “I’m not a battery technology expert so I can’t draw a conclusion that the technology for these EVs is young or flawed but I am sure that it will take a while for them to become mainstream. The big question is will longer range mean bigger, heavier and pricier batteries? It is the case now but in the future that might not be the case.”

The Xpeng and WM Motor announcements have raised an important question and will hopefully help test whether a prolonged driving range is enough to make people interested in EVs. Indeed, one of the biggest issues most car buyers have with EVs is battery life, but there’s also the lack of infrastructure, safety, charging time and more. 

“It’s probably just a matter of time before someone comes up with a 1,000-km range EV as technology proliferates and improves, but a more important question we should ask is will that solve range anxiety without proper infrastructure? The other caveat is that the Xpeng P7 only offers one variant with the 700km range and most others are between 500-600km. I think the ‘range war’ for now is more for show than for dough and do bear in mind that actual ranges are always off by roughly 100km than what’s on paper. EVs will sell with the right range and proper charging network (e.g. Tesla),” notes Lei.

Finally, in regards to Tesla, the question on everyone’s minds (at least in China) is whether it should be worried about its Chinese long-range competitors. Somehow, none of the numerous “Tesla-killers” that emerged in the market within the past several years have managed to actually kill Tesla, but could new advances help them challenge the leadership of Elon Musk’s company? 

Lei Xing believes that it is yet far from being a reality. “Tesla still has the lead on its supercharging network, no one is even close to what it is offering right now. But yes, competition is getting fiercer,” he says.