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Geely-backed luxury EV maker Lotus Tech to launch autonomous driving cars in 60 Chinese cities this year

In Business
February 23, 2024
Lotus Technology, a luxury electric-vehicle (EV) maker, plans to put its semi-autonomous driving system into operation across 60 mainland Chinese cities this year.

The company, a division of British sports car company Lotus Group in which Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding owns a majority stake, will focus on the premium segment even as cheap models dominate the mainland EV market amid an economic slowdown, CEO Feng Qingfeng told the Post on Friday.

“We will offer car owners a better experience with our NOA [navigation on autopilot] system this year,” he said. “Lotus will also improve the voice-activated control system to display our technological muscle.”

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADASs) allow cars to navigate their way automatically through city streets. These systems have the capability to recognise traffic lights at intersections, conduct full lane changing, overtake and turn left or right.

Lotus Tech, which this week raised US$880 million after completing a merger with Nasdaq-listed L Catterton Asia Acquisition, a special-purpose acquisition company, will start delivering its second mass-production EV model to Chinese customers next month, with the aim of carving a niche in the world’s largest automotive market.

“Lotus Tech envisions building up an image as a luxury electric and intelligent car assembler, banking on the historical sports car brand,” Feng said. “By focusing on sporty features, we want to make Lotus distinct from other global marques like BMW.”

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China consumers prefer smart EVs to petrol cars because most come with self-driving capabilities and ­digital cockpits, according to Cui Dongshu, general secretary of the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA).

Lotus Tech is following in the footsteps of Chinese EV maker Xpeng in launching a self-driving system similar to Tesla’s full self-driving software in the mainland’s major cities. All autonomous driving technologies still require active human supervision and have yet to make cars fully autonomous. Tesla’s software has not been approved for use in China.

Lotus Tech develops and manufactures EVS priced between US$80,000 and US$150,000. It has an assembly line in Wuhan with an annual production capacity of 150,000 units.

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On the mainland, EV makers including BYD, the world’s largest EV assembler, have been offering price cuts since late last year to sustain sales growth, which is likely to trigger a new price war amid intensified competition.

But Feng said luxury EVs will still post high delivery growth in the coming years if new models successfully attract rich consumers.

According to Oliver Wyman, an international management consultancy, the global luxury pure EV market is expected to grow at an annualised rate of 35 per cent between 2021 and 2031, reaching a market size of nearly 1.9 million units in 2031.

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On the mainland, Lotus will compete with Tesla and a raft of Chinese rivals such as Xpeng, Nio and BYD’s luxury EV brand, Yangwang.

According to the CPCA, a total of 772,500 cars priced above 400,000 yuan (US$55,567) were handed to mainland customers in 2023, a third of them powered by battery.

Feng said Lotus Tech will increase the number of its stores from about 200 globally last year to 300 in 2025. In China, where Lotus has about 60 outlets, it will remain focused on the top-tier cities.

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