Can the three skills of electric MPV beat Toyota Alphard?

MPV: What Kind of Pure Electric Model Will the Chinese Market Embrace?

Author: Zheng Senhong

MPV seems to be a declining segment in the automobile market, but there are still players trying to figure out what kind of pure electric MPV the Chinese market truly needs.

In 2022, the sales volume of MPV, with only 943,000 units sold, decreased by 12.6% year-on-year, while sedans and SUVs grew by 3.5% and 1.9%, respectively. This accounts for less than 1% of the annual sales volume of over 20 million vehicles in China.

On the other hand, it also represents a potential opportunity.

Starting in 2021, Lantu, Faraday Future, Zhiji, Hozon, Ideal, and Xiaopeng have successively included MPVs in their own product lineups, and the entire market has witnessed an unprecedented boom.

This is largely due to adjustments in the marketing strategies of new MPV models.

During the era of gasoline-powered cars, due to technological and branding limitations, domestic brand MPVs could only penetrate the market below the CNY 150,000 price range. With the maturity of electrification and intelligence technology, high-end intelligent pure electric MPVs are expected to break the market pattern.

Before we can conclude whether the new players entering the market will bring changes to the situation, we may need to face the scrutiny of three questions:

  1. How can pure electric MPVs reshape the MPV market?
  2. Why should we talk about high-end intelligent driving for MPVs?
  3. What type of MPVs will consumers purchase?

Pure Electric MPVs: Is 800V High-Voltage Platform the Optimal Solution?

Building an MPV is not an easy task.

This “technology” does not refer to the traditional three major components, but rather awareness of user pain points, such as “third-row fishing seats” and “dedicated microphones for the first and third rows,” which are still the selling points for traditional joint venture brand MPVs in 2022.

Although these are minutiae outside the core technology realm, if you are not a professional MPV manufacturer, you can only try to impress consumers with these well-known configurations rather than improvements in comfort, quietness, or space expansion.

This may be why, as pure electric products flood the market, pure electric MPVs always seem to choose to be absent in a tacit agreement.

Behind the reason as Li Xiang said:

"A battery placed in the chassis will not only increase the weight of the car body, but also the aerodynamic drag coefficient of an MPV which is a killer to electric driving range."

To thoroughly discuss this issue, it is mainly about how pure electric MPVs solve the three century-old problems of range, energy consumption, and energy replenishment.

It is necessary to admit that an MPV is not a car type that is biased towards driving, so usability performance is ranked first. In the field of new energy vehicles, range is the hardest indicator to measure the usability performance.

Early players eliminated users' range anxiety by being able to run on both fuel and electricity, such as the hybrid version of the Lantu Dreamer and the Tengshi D9. Or by using innovative battery cell materials and large-capacity batteries to improve the range, such as the Jiuke 009 with a 116kWh/140kWh Kirin battery.

In contrast, the Hechuang V09 has offered another solution-"high energy density battery + 800V high-voltage platform", with a super long range of 750+km and 5 minutes charging and 200km of energy replenishment efficiency.

On the battery pack level, Hechuang is equipped with the XFC race battery pack customized by Giantec, which has the biggest advantage that is the adoption of >200 Wh/kg high-energy density battery cell materials, and has a charging rate of 4C.

This is equivalent to 12 minutes from 0 to 80% of energy replenishment when conditions are met at the charging station, while the charging speed from 30% to 80% only takes 7.5 minutes.

In addition, the 800V high voltage, which is a standard configuration for the entire system, is also one of the contributors to the Hechuang V09. It not only improves the overall vehicle efficiency by about 4% and reduces energy consumption by 7.8%, but also, in conjunction with the exclusive Hi-EMS intelligent energy management system, Hechuang V09 can always maintain the most energy-efficient working mode in different driving conditions.

It can be seen that the long-distance capability of Hechuang V09 is comparable to the current level of other pure electric categories, but for its own bulky body, energy consumption is also an issue that cannot be ignored for an MPV.

According to the “Research Report on Energy Saving and New Energy Vehicles Development” by China Automotive Industry Data, in the category of plug-in passenger cars (including plug-in hybrid and pure electric), the average energy consumption of MPV has always been higher than that of SUV and sedans.

The high wind resistance affects high-speed energy consumption, which in turn affects high-speed endurance. This leads to a series of subsequent challenges such as charging costs, charging frequency, and charging time.

From the perspective of high randomness and high-intensity work scenarios, the convenience of replenishing energy for pure electric MPVs needs to be supplemented with systematic capability, which is also the fundamental issue of convincing business users to abandon fuel MPVs.

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According to the plan, Hechuang will lay out 300 charging stations by the end of 2023 and achieve a replenishment network of 2,000 within three years, covering community charging and public supercharging.

On February 17, Hechuang’s first high-speed service area (Machong) supercharging station was officially put into operation, with a maximum single gun output power of 600A, which can achieve a replenishment efficiency of charging for 5 minutes and endurance for 300km.

In the foreseeable future, the capability of replenishing energy system will be a key point for pure electric MPV competition.

The 800V high-voltage system is indeed one of the best solutions for replenishing energy for pure electric products, but there are many difficulties in the actual result:

  • Full supercharging piles in supercharging stations require energy storage under the existing power infrastructure conditions, which will result in the construction cost of the entire station being comparable to that of battery swapping stations.
  • The more supercharging stations are deployed, the greater the pressure on urban power capacity, and whether the power grid has the motivation to make such a large investment in infrastructure transformation.

300 charging stations in one year are not a dense replenishment network, which also tests how Hechuang can achieve replenishment efficiency comparable to that of fuel MPVs for core cities and long-distance vehicles under limited resources, let alone Hechuang is currently relying on third-party resources for station construction and layout, which is difficult to ensure long-term specialized maintenance of supercharging stations to avoid bad piles or fuel vehicle occupancy.

From the development path of pure electric sedans/SUVs in the past, ultra-high power fast charging is an effective solution, and battery swapping is even more immediate. As the first mass-produced MPV model supporting the 800V high-voltage system, Hechuang V09 is undoubtedly conforming to the development trend of the new energy vehicle market. However, the final effect still needs to be verified over time.## Advanced Intelligent Driving: not exclusive to sedans and SUVs

In the past, the domestic MPV market had been rather monotonous, with low-end models priced at just over 100,000 yuan that could both carry cargo and people.

The Buick GL8, a star product in the 200,000-yuan price range, is mainly used for business receptions. For those looking for a vehicle suitable for both families and business use, most consumers choose the Honda Odyssey or the more upscale Toyota Elfa.

The popularity of the Buick GL8 and the Honda Odyssey indicates that there is no lack of mid-to-high-end MPV consumers in China. Rather, what is missing are good replacement products. However, creating a “smart MPV” is undoubtedly a difficult task in a segmented market that has been established for many years. Electrification and intelligence are two rare breakthroughs.

Drawing from demand in the pure electric sedan and SUV markets, combining a pure electric platform with an 800V high-voltage configuration provides the optimum solution for a pure electric MPV. However, most manufacturers seem to lack inspiration in creating an “intelligent MPV.”

Compared with other vehicle types, MPVs generally have problems with difficult handling, parking, and safety due to their large body size. A good set of intelligent driving assistance functions can actually solve these three major pain points at the same time.

Due to aspects such as sales volume and cost, most manufacturers currently prioritize advanced intelligent driving application in sedans and SUV models. Even if they are willing to pay big bucks for an intelligent cockpit in MPVs, they are still somewhat hesitant to invest in intelligent driving capabilities.

For example, under the background of 2022 being the year of mass production of LIDAR, there are currently no mass-produced MPV models equipped with LIDAR. The Jike 009 and Tengshi D9 both use visual + millimeter-wave solutions.

However, in terms of driving assistance hardware, the Hechuang V09 is equipped with a total of 24 sensors:

  • 1 LIDAR equivalent to 130 laser beams;
  • 1 8 million pixel camera;
  • 1 2 million pixel rear camera;
  • 4 3 million pixel high-definition fish-eye surround cameras;
  • 5 millimeter-wave radar;
  • 12 ultrasonic sensors.

Among them, the LIDAR on the roof of the Hechuang V09 comes from Tuowei Technology, with main performance indicators including:

  • Maximum detection distance: 300 meters, with a 10% reflection rate standard: 180 meters.- Field of view: 120°(H) × 25°(V)

  • ROI area (intelligent focusing field) angular resolution: 0.15° × 0.17°

In other words, this lidar can detect pedestrians at a distance of 100 meters, and has a perception distance of 250 meters for vehicles. This means that when the vehicle is traveling at a speed of 120 kilometers/hour, it can provide the intelligent driving system with at least 3 seconds of reaction time.

This ability can complement the shortcomings of cameras and mmWave radar in complex scenarios, such as:

  • (1) For distant small obstacles, the angular resolution of the mmWave radar is insufficient, and the camera’s general obstacle recognition for the far end is inadequate, while the lidar may be able to identify them in a timely manner.

  • (2) In tunnel scenarios, when the lighting changes abruptly, the camera is less effective, and the mmWave radar generally does not recognize stationary objects. In this case, the lidar can accurately identify the stationary vehicle at the tunnel entrance.

For MPVs, the high-frequency use scenarios are semi-enclosed roads such as overpasses and expressways. A set of sufficiently effective driving assistance systems can provide more comprehensive safety guarantees, and the above two scenarios are examples of this.

An exciting mystery is that the Hechuang V09 can achieve high-speed point-to-point navigation NOA function, which means that the advanced intelligent driving assistance functions that could only be experienced in cars and SUVs can now be extended to MPVs with higher difficulty.

At a time when the MPV market is becoming increasingly homogenized, the Hechuang V09 has proposed a unique breakthrough strategy. By using a perception system equipped with a lidar, it has positioned itself as the “MPV intelligent driving benchmark” and has taken the differentiation path in core competitiveness.

For Hechuang V09, obtaining a ticket to the competition with new energy vehicle technology is worth celebrating, but it is also necessary to prepare for the marathon of running with a hundred-meter dash speed. Installing hardware on the car is only the first step, and the more difficult part lies in subsequent large-scale verification testing, function mass production, and so on.

## Anticipate, take the initiative

It is undoubtedly good news for consumers that cars are equipped with LiDAR. However, in addition to hardware configuration, software capabilities that match LiDAR are also needed, at least to be responsible for the user's real driving experience, rather than a set of decorations that increase the cost of car purchases.

As Zhiji CEO Liu Tao said:
"High technology shouldn't be showing off, but really serving the user's driving experience."

When we talk about MPVs nowadays, we're obviously not talking about production tools like the Wuling Hongguang, or design concepts like the Buick GL8, where the first row is for the driver, the second row is for the boss, and the third row is for slacking off. Instead, we're talking about the 6/7-seater MPVs for family use, which are widely regarded as a real blue ocean in the current market.

If we define products from the perspective of market demand, what do these users need?
Spacious and flexible space, more comfortable seating and entry and exit methods than SUVs, as well as the poetry and distance of travel with the whole family. Obviously, such high requirements are also the reason why explosion models in this subdivision market have been slow to appear.

For MPVs, the biggest advantage of a pure electric platform is the space required for motor layout, which is much smaller than that required for internal combustion engine vehicles. This means that the A-pillar and firewall can continue to be moved forward, improving the utilization of space in the wheelbase, and the third row of seats can be erected directly above the rear motor, further improving the utilization of space.

From the market trend, it can be seen that more and more manufacturers are choosing to enter the new energy MPV market, especially the pure electric MPV market:
Firstly, the "blue ocean market" created by the current product shortage is too tempting.
Secondly, with the development of technology, new energy MPV products will one day have better product power. Therefore, more and more people choose to "be the first to get in."

Pure electric platform, 800V high-voltage system, LiDAR, high-end intelligent assisted driving functions, and other technologies are not unfamiliar in the current market. However, when car companies are entangled between market demand and product power, and the cost calculator is pressed, the balance point eventually tilts toward the sedan and SUV categories with larger market space. SAIC-GM-Wuling can be said to be the first to fully apply mainstream new energy technology to the MPV category.

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However, one realistic issue is that the MPV consumer group highly values reputation and exhibits obvious herd behavior.

Power technology, product definition, and marketing methods are just the surface. Behind the sales of popular car models lies long-term product iteration and user accumulation. The reputation base established over 20 years is what Buick GL8 and Honda Odyssey rely on for their current positions and sales.

A few brands have long controlled the mid-to-high-end MPV market, and consumer mentality has been relatively fixed. When it comes to winning over mid-to-high-end MPV users, confrontation may not be the best approach. In addition to hard power, some “sincerity” is needed.

In terms of analyzing user groups, the core user profile for domestic MPVs is male aged 70s and 80s.

Research by iResearch Consulting shows that the home use of MPV products by this core user group has increased significantly, and their demand for products is no longer simply focused on the “face” mentality of size and price, but on comfort, practicality, and cost of ownership.

This provides a window of opportunity for new players to enter the MPV market, where advantages of electric power over traditional MPVs in terms of improving quietness and comfort are available, as well as better cost efficiency.

Take the GL8 Luray as an example. It is equipped with a 2.0T engine and consumes approximately 6L of fuel per hour at idle, burning about 50 RMB worth of 95 octane gasoline. Pure electric MPVs have a significant presence in such scenarios, and most commercial MPVs shuttle between cities and airports for receptions. Compared with fuel vehicles with high fuel consumption in congested traffic, another major advantage of pure electric MPVs is demonstrated.

In summary, for home use scenarios, the ideal L series provides a good option to replace MPVs, and the emergence of pure electric MPVs proves that a truly outstanding MPV can still bring advantages that SUVs and sedans cannot replace, especially for commercial and home use, giving MPV models sufficient vitality.

Returning to the initial question, HECO V09’s answer is to provide ultra-long endurance, the best supplement efficiency of current pure electric MPVs, and a stronger “triple play” of intelligent driving functions, all enabled by pure electric driving experience and intelligent configuration. It is hoped to become a breakthrough method for domestically produced high-end electric MPVs.“`

Intelligent electric is a standard configuration of new era cars, and MPV is no exception.

Looking at the current Chinese car market, the mid-to-high-end pure electric MPV market is the most hopeful battlefield for the “new king to be crowned”, but from the timing of entry and path tactics, some people have already walked on the right path.

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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.