Aiways takes aim at European market despite disruption

12 March 2020

12 March 2020

Shanghai-based mobility provider Aiways looks set to become the first Chinese electric-vehicle startup to enter Europe's car market. Their U5 SUV will be made available to European customers in August this year.

Aiways' battery-electric vehicle (BEV) is powered by a 140kW motor, running off a 63kWh battery, which can be charged from 30% to 80% within 27 minutes at a DC charging point. At 4.6 meters long, 1.8 meters wide and 1.7 meters high, the U5 sets up shop in traditional mid-size SUV territory.

Sights set on safety

Aiways claims to have improved on the common automotive battery pack with a ′sandwich structure'. The battery module (dry zone) and the cooling plate (wet zone) are separated with an isolation plate, improving vehicle safety and battery stability. According to Aiways, this means that should the vehicle ever be involved in an accident, it would be ′impossible' for leaking coolant to enter the battery module, avoiding the risk of fire or explosion caused by a short circuit.

The U5 is fitted with 22 sensors, 12 ultrasonic radars, five HD cameras and three millimetre-wave radars, providing level 2 autonomy and real-time analysis of traffic conditions. It is also equipped with warning systems for lane departure, blind spots and rear-crossing traffic.

′Developing the required levels of safety is one of the biggest priorities and challenges for any new vehicle startup', said Aiways chief technical officer Winter Wang.

′In developing the U5 we have engaged experienced automotive safety specialists with a profound understanding of the quality and protection levels needed to be successful in global markets.'

In December 2019, the U5 became the first Chinese BEV to be tested by Euro NCAP, where it secured three out of five stars.

Sales strategy

In Europe, the Aiways BEV will be made available exclusively via a direct-to-customer sales model, with no car dealership involvement. The manufacturer aims to streamline the ′traditional' car-buying journey. European consumers will be able to research models, book test drives, configure setups and sign up to various usage periods.

′Aiways' sales model will improve access to the all-electric U5 and make it easy to buy a car online. We are considering different types of ownership models, ranging from subscription to outright purchase – but starting with leasing', said Alexander Klose, Executive VP Overseas Operation at Aiways.

U5 maintenance will be scheduled every 100,000km, provided by a network of established in-country specialists. In Germany, Aiways intends to enter cooperation with ATU, a chain of independent workshops. Other regional support partnerships will be announced ahead of the U5's launch later this year.

Unforeseeable circumstances

The U5's European launch was originally planned for April this year but the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has meant Aiways delaying until August. In a statement, the startup confirmed its energy and resources have been focused on helping fight the outbreak and limit its spread.

′Because of these unforeseeable circumstances, Aiways has brought forward production of the 2021 model year U5 to July, with the first European deliveries now slated for August 2020', the statement read.

But with COVID-19 continuing to cause disruption in China, there is a possibility this date could be rolled back again. Government-mandated business days off have already meant work stoppages and lower levels of production, impacting the automotive supply chain.

COVID-19's impact is coming at a time when car manufacturers are already facing difficulties sourcing batteries. LG Chem, a major vehicle battery manufacturer is struggling with its supply. Audi has scaled back manufacturing of the e-tron and Jaguar Land Rover has also encountered cell supply problems.