Published July 18, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
Conventionally powered FAW Vita sedan.
A fair amount of talk about not letting the Chinese have the Chevrolet Volt’s intellectual property has circulated, particularly in enthusiast forums, but today it was revealed one of China’s “Big Four” automakers is independently developing an extended-range EV that could compete with the over-priced Chevy.
The Volt is priced at around $79,000 in China as it’s been slapped with tariffs, and is ineligible for substantial Chinese EV subsidies, and the smaller prototype city car called the “1 L/100 km Fuel Consumption Car” that FAW Group is working on would undercut it even before applying incentives.
But whether the A platform car is actually brought to market, is in question, said WardsAuto reporting today from Changchun, China – the country’s corollary to Detroit – at an ongoing Advanced Vehicle Technologies and Integration conference.
The parallel E-REV hybrid car is not an utter knock-off of the Volt, but Li Jun, president of China FAW research and development, told 500 in attendance FAW did benchmark both the series-parallel hybrid E-REV Volt and series E-REV Audi A1 e-tron.
The FAW group E-Rev is thus said to offer competitive performance for its lighter, less powerful hybrid that relies also on a 0.67-liter two-cylinder range extender – based on existing, proven engines – that is always coupled to the front wheels.
At low speeds – which are typical for some of China’s crowded cities – the FAW car runs on either energy from the engine or energy from its 360-volt electric traction motor powered by a 12-kw generator and a 9-kwh battery pack which is supplied by LG Chem – the same South Korean company that makes the Volt’s 16-kwh battery.
At higher speeds, both engine and electric drive propel the prototype that Li said has 10 years of development work behind it – with undoubtedly only the last few years spent studying and refining its concept next to the comparatively newer Chevy and Audi.
Range from the parallel hybrid balancing off of the gas engine and traction motor is estimated at 37 miles, right where the Volt’s all-electric range is – but the Volt has the advantage of decoupling the engine, and runs on all electric power for those initial miles.
When the FAW concept’s battery depletes, the engine keeps running for a range of 249 miles with 56 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, and 68 pound-feet of torque at the same rpm. Top speed is reportedly 99 mph, and 0-62 mph is seen in 11 seconds.
Curb weight is said to be just 2,425 pounds compared to the Volt’s 3,781 pounds, and this means the small powertrain is sufficient to the task, and can be at least as efficient as the “1 L/100 km fuel consumption” mentioned, if not more.
The value proposition appears hard to beat overall. Being a domestically produced electrified vehicle, it could be eligible for government subsidies, and the total extra production costs – mostly from the batteries – said Li, is $8,581 over a comparable FAW gasoline-powered car. Even without subsidies, Li estimates payback for the extra technology would be within eight years.
But again, we shall see whether it makes it to production. Chinese automakers have recently again said they need to advance technologically further, having already learned much from joint venture partners. The JV arrangement is a government-mandated condition in business ventures with western and more advanced companies – which in turn teach Chinese government controlled corporations efficiencies and endow technology to let the Chinese leap-frog forward.
For its part, FAW is no small player and probably should not be underestimated as some have of Chinese automakers in general. Last year it earned annual revenues of $57 billion and profit of $2.3 billion, and this month FAW Group announced it jumped 32 placed forward to rank number 165 in the Global Fortune 500.
A year ago, a Chinese auto writer offered the opinion that to date Chinese technology is not sophisticated enough to build complex hybrid systems, and that is one of the reasons it is heading straight toward comparatively simpler EVs.
But FAW Group's “1 L/100 km Fuel Consumption" parallel hybrid is nearly ready for production, said Li, undergoing additional engineering work now, and it threatens to prove that previous viewpoint outdated if it ever was true.