2nd gear, 3 motors, 4-wheel drive, 5G and NOA. Sounds good, right?

Last Wednesday, my colleague told me: “We arranged a visit to SAIC R brand showroom for you tomorrow.” I was curious and asked, “What car is that?”

Then, my colleague sent me this picture.

Isn’t this the MARVEL R that was previously showcased?

With these interior colors, without hesitation, I replied to my colleague, “Okay, see you tomorrow!”

It really went into production

On the way to the showroom the next day, I recalled the first time I saw the MARVEL R was at the Chengdu Auto Show, and it was still a prototype at that time.

MARVEL R at Chengdu Auto Show

At that time, the sci-fi front face design of the MARVEL R left a deep impression on me, but at the same time, such a large span of innovative design made me feel that “the shape is probably not going to be mass-produced.”

Later, at the launch event of the ER6, I saw the MARVEL R again.

This time, the MARVEL R still maintained the same appearance as at the auto show. I vaguely felt that “this design might actually be put into mass production.”

And finally, at the showroom, we saw the actual MARVEL R.

The actual car design is very faithful to the concept car

The through-type headlights, the enclosed front face, the split left and right grilles, and the carbon fiber-like front lip – the MARVEL R almost faithfully preserves the design of the prototype car.

The MARVEL R’s tail is also designed with a through-style taillight, and although the design of the fake air outlet on both sides has no functional purpose, it still looks sporty.

The interior part of the MARVEL R may have some details changed after its launch, according to the salesperson. Therefore, for now, only official homepage pictures should be used as a reference.

The blue color of the rendered image of the actual car is darker, and when combined with the main milky white color, the entire cabin looks very textured and not dull.

The MARVEL R’s exterior design has a distinct science fiction feel, with a good-looking front and high recognition. However, the body contour and proportions are relatively conservative, and the overall style feels somewhat intentionally restrained and not so consistent.

Relatively conservative side profile

In terms of styling and color matching, I think the interior appearance is even more outstanding than the exterior. Overall, the exterior belongs to a good level, and the interior can be said to have achieved an excellent level. The designer’s aesthetics are absolutely exceptional.

Three Electrics, All Highlights

This time, I also consulted the salesperson about the three electric issues of the MARVEL R, and this part of the content is no less than the exterior and even more dazzling.

High Density and High Safety

The first thing to talk about is the battery. The entry-level MARVEL R’s power battery uses a 523 formula ternary lithium battery. According to SAIC’s data, the current mainstream 523 formula battery pack has a volume utilization rate of around 40-50% and a quality utilization rate of 65-75%, which means that nearly half of the volume and one third of the weight of the battery pack are not used to store energy.

One of the key issues here is that the battery pack is composed of multiple battery modules. Besides the battery cores, the module structure composition includes other functional and protective parts, which occupy a certain volume and weight themselves.

Using a less serious analogy, a battery pack is like a large box, and a battery module is a foam-cushioned small packaging box inside the large box. If a certain method can be used to ensure that the storage of transported goods is not affected and as little packaging as possible is used, more items can be packed into the large box.

MARVEL R has made significant improvements to the battery structure, completing a substantial de-modularization process.

Through a customized large module solution, SAIC reduced the number of modules inside the battery pack to 6. The reduction in “middleware” greatly improved the volume utilization rate of the battery pack. As a result, the new battery pack has a 34% increase in volume energy density and a 15% increase in mass energy density.

The volume utilization rate of the new battery pack is 60%, the mass utilization rate is 75%, and the battery capacity is 70 kWh. Previously, only 54.3 kWh of battery could fit into the same size. The energy density of this battery pack reaches 180 Wh/kg and achieves a density of 811 formula using the 523 formula.

SAIC also made an industry-unique integrated aluminum casting tray on this battery pack, which alone reduced 17 kg of weight. At the same time, the innovation in manufacturing technology and material applications also reduced the production cost of this component, which can be said to be a win-win situation.

While achieving high density, this battery pack still maintains a very high safety standard.

Objectively speaking, the safety of lithium-ion batteries of the industry’s leading companies is already good at this stage. The probability of thermal runaway and fire is not as high as one would think, especially since the Ningde era’s 523 formula used by SAIC this time is a relatively mature and safe battery formula with relatively mild chemical properties. The liquid cooling system and BMS monitoring and regulation inside the pack can prevent thermal runaway.

But safety always needs to be redundantly considered, even if thermal runaway occurs.

Recently, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued GB 38031-2020 “Safety requirements for power batteries for electric vehicles”, which explicitly requires that the battery system should not ignite within 5 minutes after an individual battery cell’s thermal runaway. This mandatory national standard will be implemented from January 1st of next year.The battery pack from SAIC was designed based on the UL-2580 battery safety standard in the United States, which is currently the strictest battery durability standard. The standard for thermal runaway management is 30 minutes.

During the internal testing process of SAIC, 50-60 sets of battery packs were “burned out”, but many of them only had cell failures and did not experience overall thermal runaway. The battery packs were not damaged, and in theory, they can be used by simply replacing the module.

For those that experienced thermal runaway, the worst-case time was also around 40 minutes, which is greater than 30 minutes.

In order to achieve such a high level of fire prevention and thermal runaway prevention, SAIC actually sacrificed a lot of energy density and cost. According to Zhu Jun, the chief engineer, various methods such as fire prevention, fire-retardant valves, and aerogels were used.

Just in terms of sealing, SAIC has put in a lot of effort this time. The sealing of the battery pack not only tests the OEMs, but also puts requirements on suppliers. SAIC, together with DuPont, Dow Chemical, and other companies, finally achieved an IP69K level of sealing for the battery pack, which is also the highest specification in the industry.

2nd to 3rd motor and clutch

The electric drive part of the MARVEL R this time is very interesting, beginning with a dual-motor rear-wheel-drive. The vehicle’s rear axle contains an 85 kW main drive motor (TM motor) and a 52 kW auxiliary motor (BM motor).

In low-speed and low-load working conditions, only the 85 kW main motor works, while the 52 kW auxiliary motor will intervene when deep acceleration is needed or when the vehicle speed exceeds 80 km/h.

This dual-motor power system split is actually somewhat similar to the “adaptive cylinder deactivation” technology commonly found in today’s gasoline engines, which reduces power consumption under small loads without sacrificing maximum power.MARVEL R’s auxiliary drive motor also has two gears. When driving at speeds over 85 km/h, the driving system will switch the auxiliary motor to second gear.

At the same speed, when the auxiliary motor shifts up to second gear, its rotational speed decreases, which in turn improves its output efficiency.

In summary, the two-gear gearbox on the auxiliary motor not only improves the high-speed performance of MARVEL R, but also improves the efficiency of the motor under high-speed conditions, resulting in reduced energy consumption.

If the basic dual-motor version cannot meet your performance requirements, MARVEL R also has a “high-performance four-wheel drive upgrade package”.

Equipped with this upgrade package, the front axle of the car has an additional permanent magnet synchronous motor. After the upgrade, the corresponding 0-100 km/h acceleration time is 4.8 seconds.

Moreover, the permanent magnet synchronous motor on the front axle is equipped with a clutch.

As we all know, permanent magnet synchronous motors have more advantages in energy efficiency than asynchronous induction motors, but models with permanent magnet synchronous motors on both front and rear axles are not common.

This is because a permanent magnet synchronous motor not in the driving state will generate counter electromotive force when “rotated passively”, causing reverse damping. In another sense, a non-driving permanent magnet synchronous motor will always be in a “kinetic energy recovery” state.

Therefore, most models with permanent magnet motors on both front and rear axles can only be “full-time four-wheel drive”, even under low load conditions. Naturally, the corresponding energy consumption is not ideal.

MARVEL R’s front axle permanent magnet motor is paired with a “transcendent clutch”, which can disconnect the connection between the front motor and the front axle under low load conditions so that the axle rotates but the motor does not. This solves the problem of counter electromotive force in permanent magnet synchronous motors.

Moreover, after the motor is disconnected, the rotational inertia of the front axle decreases, which is favorable for vehicle acceleration and braking and reduces energy consumption, achieving multiple benefits.

Anticipated Advanced Driver Assistance

The title “anticipate” is not just a courtesy. Let’s first look at the hardware of the advanced driver assistance package.

MARVEL R, which is equipped with the “smart driving upgrade package,” has 13 cameras. The 11 outdoor cameras include:

  • Dual front-facing cameras
  • 1 driving recorder camera
  • 4 auxiliary perception cameras
  • 4 360-degree panoramic cameras

The two interior cameras are used for driver facial recognition and DMS driver attention monitoring.

With the “Intelligent Driving Upgrade Package” on MARVEL R, the car is equipped with a staggering total of 17 radar sensors, including 12 ultrasonic and 5 millimeter-wave sensors.

Regarding its driving assistance chips, MARVEL R uses the Mobileye EyeQ4H chip.

In addition to these “traditional components,” MARVEL R also features Huawei’s 5G communication chip, which enables 5G + V2X auxiliary perception. After upgrading to this system, the vehicle can obtain updated information faster and with lower latency, and also allows for connectivity with more terminals.

According to the official introduction, this configuration gives MARVEL R the ability to achieve long-range perception, which enables hands-free driving on roads with high-precision maps. It is also capable of decelerating in advance before entering high-speed curves, and can even perceive obstacles beyond the line of sight when other networked devices are present in the area.

Additionally, I noticed that MARVEL R has added control functions for driving assistance systems to its voice interaction system, allowing drivers to adjust the speed of the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) system through voice commands.

What surprised me the most is that MARVEL R is expected to launch its NOA highway navigation assistance driving function next year. Currently, only Tesla, NIO, and XPeng Motors have similar functions. I did not expect this traditional car manufacturer, SAIC, to make such a move in driving assistance technology. As the saying goes, still waters run deep.

Although these advertised features cannot be experienced at the moment, objectively speaking, MARVEL R’s driving assistance system appears to be impressive and worth looking forward to.

However, it should be noted that paper data and actual experience cannot be equated. I hope that when I have the opportunity to actually experience MARVEL R next year, it can live up to these expectations.

Striving for excellence

SAIC’s R brand has not been established for a long time, and currently, it has only released two vehicle models. People often say that a company’s attitude can determine the quality of its products. This time, I want to examine the company from the perspective of its products.Colleague’s ER6 is SAIC R’s first car, which has the longest NEDC range of 620 km in its class, a series of very youthful and personalized designs and color schemes, and is equipped with rich intelligent configurations under its existing resources. What’s more, it has a very affordable starting price of 160,000 yuan and a financial condition of 20% down payment and 5-year interest-free.

Moreover, SAIC R brand adopts a direct sales model and many experience stores are located in shopping malls, providing services such as door-to-door test drives. The brand’s practices of youthfulness, transparency, and user thinking are very “new power”.

However, it must be said that “these are the reasons why people love new powers.” Rarely, after seeing these, SAIC, as an old car company, decided to learn from these later comers and work hard on intelligence and user thinking.

After experiencing the ER6, I can responsibly say that the R brand, with the backing of SAIC, has achieved the same excellent level in the three-electric technology and mechanical quality. The basic skills of the industry, such as linear and good throttle and brake, gradual kinetic energy recovery, smooth and moderate steering damping, and comfortable filtering of fine vibration of the chassis and assembly paint, are not a problem. After test driving, you can really feel that the ER6 is a vehicle tuned and manufactured by a major manufacturer.

But also because it is under the framework of SAIC, R brand’s models still show some shadow of SAIC models, which is regrettable for a newly established sub-brand, but also reasonable.

Overall, R brand has made as much improvement and effort as possible under limited resources, and its pricing and actual actions facing consumers are sincere enough.

This is also the core reason why I say that MARVEL R is worth looking forward to-they know what is good and are working hard to make it better.

This article is a translation by ChatGPT of a Chinese report from 42HOW. If you have any questions about it, please email bd@42how.com.