Most electric models currently mushrooming in the Chinese auto sector will lose their appeal in two or three years, as they were designed as "makeshift substitutes" for gasoline cars, according to Ding Lei, founder and chairman of electric car startup Huaren Technology R&D Co.
"Many of them are the result of nothing but government subsidies," he said. "They were built to replace the gasoline vehicles of today, but were not designed as the vehicles of tomorrow." Ding, who started his career as an engineer at Volkswagen's China business and later headed GM's joint venture in China, developed his interest in new energy vehicles many years ago besides reaping success in gasoline cars.
As CEO of SAIC GM, he led the launch of the General Motors Springo electric vehicle into the China market in 2011. He also launched the EREV Volt and a fuel-cell model at the Shanghai Expo 2010.
Ding said the vehicles of the future should be smart, connected and have the ability to learn. But he stressed that they would not become mobile devices like smart phones, as claimed by many electric car companies founded by dotcom veterans.
That popular belief has resulted in cars with larger screens and overemphasis on concepts like value-added services beyond cars.
"Unlike smart phones, 90 percent of whose functions are social-oriented, I believe the major functions of smart cars will remain for mobility, so we should treat them as cars themselves, just smarter and more connected," Ding added.
"You may talk about smart terminals or the internet, but that will not change the function of cars, and that is why automaking experience is important for car startups."
Following that logic Ding said Huaren, founded in mid-2017, pursues a practical, research and development-based strategy to build future-oriented cars and mobility solutions.
With registered capital of 1 billion yuan ($156 million), the company is financially backed by the Jiangsu government's investment fund, the State-owned Yueda Group and Yancheng State-owned Assets Group, ensuring it has enough capital to cover R&D and production costs.
"We will start from technology, so we have built a R&D company," Ding said.
"We will then move into making smart cars, smart mobility solutions and finally integrate everything into smart cities."
One project his Shanghai-based research team is working on is new internet gateway-based electric architecture, which enables users to update software and features while on the road and generate additional services and performance as the needs of driver and passenger change.
The electric architecture also promises to better coordinate a vehicle's various mechanical components, allowing drivers to customize the driving experience.
The cutting-edge technology and concept product is expected to be unveiled later this year.
Besides the new architecture, the company said it wishes to build a core competitive edge in terms of integration, powertrains, smart cars and connectivity, as well as autonomous driving.
Ding said his company will not rush to come up with models, because what his team wanted to build were "next-generation smart mobility tools".
"The market is vast and yet to rise, so you do not have to rush if you have good products," he said.
Ding said it would take more time for next-generation mobility products to get ready for the mass market, because the undeveloped battery and charging technology would experience a "huge" leap forward in the next two to three years.
"The market welcomes new and innovative players. Whenever you have good technologies, good products and good services, you will have opportunities in the market."