China EVs: Xpeng and Li Auto roll out X9 and Mega MPVs aimed at rich buyers in bid to dominate segment

Xpeng and Li Auto, two of China’s leading electric vehicle (EV) makers, are battling for supremacy in the multipurpose vehicle (MPV) segment, targeting wealthy families amid a sluggish market.

On Monday, Guangzhou-based Xpeng priced its newest model, X9 MPV, at 359,800 yuan (US$50,700), 7 per cent lower than the 388,000 yuan during the presale in November.

Beijing-headquartered Li Auto, the nearest rival to Tesla in mainland China, said a day earlier that it would begin delivering its flagship seven-seater Mega MPV from March 1. The company, however, has yet to reveal the model’s pricing.

MPVs, or minivans, are mainly aimed at rich households in China. As buyers look to replace petrol-powered vehicles built by conventional carmakers such as General Motors, electric MPVs have created opportunities for carmakers such as Xpeng and Li Auto to spur sales of their premium models.

Li Auto’s Mega MPV is displayed at the Guangzhou Auto Show in November 2023. Photo: Bloomberg

“The rivalry between the two companies in the MPV market is interesting to watch because consumers are increasingly concerned about the domestic economy and their job prospects,” said Phate Zhang, founder of Shanghai-based EV data provider CnEVPost. “All eyes are on Li Auto since it is yet to unveil the price of the Mega vehicles.”

Xpeng said it has received more than 30,000 orders for the seven-seater X9 and will deliver the first batch to buyers this month.

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Li Auto said in November that it would price the Mega under 600,000 yuan.

MPV is not a fast-growing segment in China. In 2022, sales of MPVs fell 13 per cent year on year to 940,000 units, according to data from China Passenger Car Association (CPCA). GM’s Buick GL8 led the segment with 126,838 units in 2022, but sales slumped by more than a fifth from a year earlier.

The launch of new MPVs comes amid mounting worries about a slowing Chinese EV market, with some players resorting to price cuts to sustain sales growth.

EV sales in mainland China are seen growing 20 per cent year on year in 2024, according to a Fitch Ratings’ report in November, slowing from the projected 30 per cent increase in 2023.

Crunch time for Chinese EV makers amid slowing growth, intensifying rivalry

China is the world’s largest automotive and EV market, with sales of battery-powered cars accounting for about 60 per cent of the global total. However, only a handful of companies such as BYD and Li Auto are profitable.

The X9, built on Xpeng’s SEPA 2.0 architecture launched in April 2023, has a driving range of up to 702km and features semi-autonomous driving capability powered by the X NGP (navigation guided pilot) software, similar to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system.

The Li Mega is Li Auto’s first fully electric model, and comes after booming sales of its four extended-range, hybrid SUV models.

The vehicle will be fitted with the Qilin fast-charging batteries made by Contemporary Amperex Technology, the world’s largest EV battery producer. The batteries offer a 500km driving range on a 12-minute electric charge. The MPV can reach 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds, according to Li Auto.

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