China’s ‘People’s Tesla’ Overtakes Elon’s Model 3 As Best Selling Electric Car

Meet the little EV causing a big stir in the automotive industry.

China’s ‘People’s Tesla’ Overtakes Elon’s Model 3 As Best Selling Electric Car

The Wuling Hongguang Mini – officially China (and the world's) favourite EV. Image: General Motors

While Australia might be slow on the uptake when it comes to electric vehicle (EV) adoption, many of the world’s biggest automotive markets are becoming more and more electrified. EVs are mainstream now – in no small part due to the vision of Elon Musk’s pioneering company Tesla, which has transformed the global public’s perception of EVs from drab to desirable.

The Tesla Model 3, Tesla’s smallest and cheapest vehicle, is officially the world’s best-selling electric car of all time with close to a million units sold and was the world’s top-selling plug-in electric car (PEV) for three years running, from 2018 to 2020.

‘Was’ being the operative term. Now, a tiny EV rival out of China has unseated Tesla’s throne as the world’s most popular electric car – after only a year on the market and without even having to leave its home country.

It’s called the Wuling Hongguang Mini – not quite as snappy as ‘Tesla Model 3’, but there you go. Manufactured by SAIC-GM-Wuling, a joint venture between two Chinese state-owned auto makers and America’s General Motors, the diminutive ‘mianbao che’ (面包车) or ‘bread box car’ has finally overtaken the Model 3 in global monthly sales, with Wuling selling over 1,000 a day, The Driven relates.

While it’s currently only offered in mainland China (which makes those sales figures even more impressive), the brand has ambitions to take it overseas, and manufacturers in countries like Latvia and Pakistan are already penning deals to produce the pint-sized EV under license.

The interior of a Hongguang Mini. Bare bones but aesthetically pleasing and modern, it can fit four adults (in a pinch). Image: General Motors

Less than 3m long and putting out an equivalent of 13kW from its single motor, it’s a truly titchy thing. But so is the asking price: around 5,700 AUD. That’s cheap by anyone’s standards. It only has an effective range of about 120-170km (depending on the battery) but seeing as this car’s natural environment would be the packed streets of a Chinese metropolis, that’s hardly a concern.

A big factor in the Hongguang Mini’s success is its cute factor, too. It’s a demonstrably attractive little car with a somewhat retro aesthetic – taking a leaf out of MINI’s book – that Wuling have aimed squarely at the female market, which is generally more receptive to EV ownership, as this Al Jazeera article relates.

Would the car work in Australia, however? It’s a good question. Even if the car was sold here for double its Chinese RRP, it would still be easily be the cheapest car in Australia – and the cheapest EV by a long shot (the cheapest EV available Down Under currently is the MG ZS EV, which starts at $40,990 before on-road costs).

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The biggest issue is safety. An unofficial crash test of the Hongguang Mini conducted in China suggests the car performs poorly in a crash, with one tester quipping “no one in the car can survive even in a low-speed frontal crash… Crushed like [a] soda can”, Tesmanian reports. It wouldn’t be allowed to be sold in most overseas markets as is.

Guess you get what you pay for.

A Tesla Model 3 in Australia. Unlike the Wuling Hongguang Mini, the Model 3 has a 5-star ANCAP rating. Image: Daily Telegraph

China has long been the world’s #1 producer of EVs as well as the world’s largest market for EVs: home to over half the world’s fleet, the Middle Kingdom has quickly and enthusiastically embraced EV technology in a way that makes other automotive giants like Japan and the United States look like real laggards.

The ‘People’s Tesla’ is successful for a reason: it’s cheap, and it sacrifices safety and creature comforts in the pursuit of cheapness. But its success should be a wake-up call to Tesla, America and the rest of the world: unless others start innovating, China will undoubtedly overtake everyone else in the EV game.

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