Everybody wants electric sports cars. They are quick with all that low-RPM torque and low transient response times; plus, penguins approve. Today we take a quick look at the development of electric sports cars in China — amazing vehicles you’ve likely never even heard of. There is a lot going on, as always, especially since we’re covering concept cars, one-offs, and production cars in both electric and hybrid form. So please allow me, a Chinese car-industry expert, guide you through the amazing world of Chinese EV sports cars.
Like elsewhere, sports cars in China are mainly halo cars to draw attention to a brand. For the longest time, high-end sports cars by Chinese brands were not considered an easy sell, as most consumers who got the cash preferred a fancy import. But that is slowly changing with the advance of electric technology. Consumers consider Chinese EV tech superior to Western, so suddenly a homegrown electric sports car may have a serious chance.
Songsan Dolphin SS: The Electric Corvette Clone
I am so cool yeah yeah yeah sixties yeah yeah yeah Americana yeah yeah yeah — or so the founders of Songsan Motors sing. These fellows love America. They started as a Harley club, then they started importing these motorbikes, and then one day in 2019 they decided to leave their choppers for motorcars. Their first creation was the Songsan Motors Dolphin SS, a two-door sports car with a retractable hardtop.
Design is inspired by the 1953 C1 Chevrolet Corvette. Songsan doesn’t hide that; they got pics of the C1 all over their website, mixed with pics of celebrities like Marilin Monroe, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt. The Dolphin SS honors the C1. But don’t think it is some cheap-ass kit car made in a shed in Boulder Creek. The machine is contract-manufactured by none other than Buffet’s BYD, the same company that created the impressive e-Seed, which I’ll get to soon.
The Dolphin SS uses a BYD PHEV powertrain combining a 1.5 turbo with an electric motor. Combined output is a proper 320 hp and 535 Nm, much more than the original C1. Transmission is a six-speed DCT. Battery capacity is 16 kWh. Songsan claims a 0-100 in 5.9 seconds, a fuel consumption of 1.3 liter per 100 kilometers (that’s almost 200 MPG!), and an EV-only range of 100 kilometers. Price is 598.000 yuan or $93,970. BYD wants to do more contract manufacturing for other car makers in the future. Well, if they can do the Dolphin SS, what can they not?
Because of its BYD underpinnings, the “Chinese Corvette” is street legal, and quite a few have been sold in and around Beijing. Songsan is developing a full electric version of the SS Dolphin. But that ain’t all. They are also working on a four-door fixed-roof version of the Dolphin, a Buick Roadmaster heritage car, and a way too-ugly Volkswagen Bus inspired van called the SS Summer. They better stick to American cars. Confusingly, BYD now builds a car called Dolphin as well, but that’s a small electric hatchback.
ArcFox-7 & ArcFox GT: Icy Cool Supercar
The ArcFox-7 is an electric supercar with scissor doors, and was unveiled at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, where I met it in person. ArcFox is an EV brand under BAIC. The brand makes the α-S (Alpha) sedan and the α-T SUV. Back in 2016 the ArcFox brand was new, so it needed attention. At the time, it made a cool electric city car called the ArcFox Lite, which was later moved to another brand — a thing Chinese carmakers do all the time.
[Editor’s Note: The name and badge sure do remind me of this. – JT]
The 7 was developed by BAIC and Spanish firm Campos Racing. The it was partially based on the platform of a NEXTEV Formula E race car, engineered and operated by the Spanish racing team. NEXTEV was later gobbled up by another Chinese automaker, NIO, and renamed NIO 333 Racing. The ArcFox 7 had impressive specs: 603 horses and 1050 Nm for 0-100 in 2.8 seconds. It had a 66.6 kWh battery and a 298 kilometer range (179 miles). It was very low too, with a height of just 1214 millimeters. The concept was functional. ArcFox released a video showing the car driving around on roads and tracks in Spain, and later it did a demo run on the Goldenport race track in Beijing.
We didn’t hear much about the 7 until early 2018, when Chinese media reported that production was imminent, with a range of 400 to 500 kilometers (250-310 miles or so) and a price of 10 million yuan. But that didn’t happen. Instead, ArcFox went to work on a new EV supercar project.
The ArcFox GT debuted in 2019 at the Geneva Motor Show. It was a twin, with a track version called the “Race Edition.” The rounded design of the ArcFox-7 was dumped for more angular lines with a shipload of spoilers and wings. ArcFox used the opportunity to unveil its new brand slogan: “Born Free.” The GT had a carbon monocoque and four electric motors — one on each wheel. Combined output was 1020 hp and 800 Nm. Zero to 100 km/h took 2.59 seconds but top speed was a slightly disappointing, or realistic, 255 km/h (that’s just under 160 mph). The battery was a 85 kWh unit for 400 kilometers of range (~250 mi), able to charge 20 to 80% in 30 minutes.
The Race Edition was even more badass, with 1632 horses and 1320 Nm. The GT was displayed in several ArcFox shops in China, where it was reviewed by Yan Zhi [Editor’s Note: I’m not entirely sure who this is. So if you are reading this and scratching your head, worry not. I’m there with you. -DT]. The GT wasn’t functional and ArcFox didn’t develop it any further, so it never reached production.
BYD e-Seed GT: Seeds Of BYD’s Design
“Big chickens don’t peck at small seeds,” or so a Chinese proverb says. The 2019 BYD e-Seed GT concept is a large car with a length of 4.95 meters (16 feet or so) and gull-wing doors. BYD called it a “supercar,” so that’s what it was. If Warren Buffet believes BYD, why shouldn’t we?
The e-Seed had all sorts of seedy sporty details, like the winglets on the side skirts, the red BYD-branded brake calipers, ventilated brake discs, and a low front spoiler. It didn’t have any mirrors. BYD said the e-Seed had an all-wheel drive 626 hp PHEV powertrain, combining a 2.0 turbocharged gasoline engine with two electric motors — one at the front and one at the rear. The fuzzy name had a real meaning. Seed stood for: Sports, Experience, Environmental, Device.
This was just before the arrival of the cabin-widescreen technologies. BYD took a head start on the future with a novel three-screen setup, with each screen of the same size. Looks a bit like a display in a TV shop, but cool nevertheless.
At a design exhibition BYD showed a model, about 1:12 size it seems, of a convertible version of the e-Seed. With four seats! Very cool car but sadly they didn’t make a 1:1 of it.
The e-Seed GT also introduced a new design language which most notably came to life on the BYD Han EV, a sport sedan launched in 2020 (shown above). This machine actually has supercar power; the range-topper has a twin-motor setup with 517 hp and 700 Nm. It does 0-100 in 3.9 seconds and you can buy one in China for just 288.600 yuan ($41,500 USD). So this little seed came to life indeed.
Farnova Othello: Not The Play Or The Game
The Farnova Othello is an electric supercar unveiled in 2021, priced at a friendly $288,000 USD. The Othello was developed by Farnova Automotive, a company based in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. The founder was a certain Guo Gelin, who became wealthy by building high-end boats with his company Farnova Yacht. Confusing detail: Farnova Yacht works with a Spanish yacht-design company called BYD Group, with BYD being an abbreviation of Barcelona Yacht Design. It gets better: Farnova Automotive’s main business was building electric buses, powered by batteries from… BYD. That’s the Chinese Build Your Dreams BYD. Hope Farnova didn’t mix up their BYDs, like asking the Spanish firm for a battery pack or the Chinese firm for a new mast.
The Farnova Othello was meant as a halo-car to draw attention to the buses. The claimed specs were impressive: dual motor, 1835 hp and 12.000 Nm, 0-100 km/h in 1.8 seconds, 0-300 in 8.5 seconds, and a top speed of 420 km/h. The battery was sourced from Swedish battery maker Northvolt. The battery’s size was 75 kWh — good for a 600 km range (373 miles), according to the company. At least one prototype was produced, with working doors and an interior but without a powertrain.
The plan was to build 200 cars in a joint venture with Qiantu Motors (see further down). The company also unveiled plans for an electric SUV, pickup truck, and a futuristic high-end bus. Sadly, nothing came of it.
Leap S01: A Dirt-Cheap EV Sports Coupe
The Leap S01 is what the 2022 Mazda Miata RF should have been: a small, cool, and speedy electric sports car with a roof. Instead, Mazda went for an open-top stinker again [Editor’s Note: This is a hot take that I’m just going to let slide. Let’s move along. -DT]. The S01 was the first car of Leapmotor (they spell it without a space – no time for spaces I guess), a new EV maker hailing from Zhejiang province. Nowadays the company is best known for its high-end C01 sedan and C11 SUV, but the S01 got it all started. It uses a front-motor front-wheel drive powertrain with the battery pack under the floor and under the rear bench. Yes, a rear bench. Unlike the Miata the S01 seats four fellows.
Skateboard platforms are good. They can put the motor in the back if they want, and I hope they do someday.
The motor of the Leap S01 puts out 170 hp and 250 Nm. Top speed is a slightly too slow 135 km/h but 0-100 is a decent 6.9 seconds. There are two battery options: 35.6 kWh for 305 kilometers (190 miles) of range or 48 kWh for 380 kilometers (236 miles). Price starts at just 129.900 yuan ($18,670 USD).
The Miata isn’t sold in China right now. Guess why? Same reason Toyota doesn’t sell the GT86 in China anymore: They are too stinky and push up the brand’s average emissions by too much. In 2018, the last year it was available, the Miata RF with a 155 hp 2.0 sold for 339.000 yuan ($48,720 USD). The Miata roadster was killed off in China in 2009 (I saw one in pink!).
NIO EP9: Nürburgring Nightmare
NIO is a buzzy Chinese EV maker with some novel ideas about charging. It is coming to Europe and America with its electric SUVs. But back in 2016 nobody had heard about it yet. So naturally it went for an electric supercar. The EP9 was designed by David Hilton, an American also responsible for the 2020 Infiniti Emerg-E hybrid concept car. The EP9 had four electric motors — one on each wheel. Total output was 1360 hp and 1480 Nm. NIO claimed a top speed of 313 km/h and a 0-200 of 7.2 seconds. The battery was small at only 54 kWh for a claimed range of 427 kilometers NEDC.
Production or no production? Well, more of the latter than the former. NIO made eight cars in total. One and two were NIO’s own record-breaking cars. The other six were sold to early investors, reportedly for 3.5 million USD (2017 exchange rates) each. They were shown together once, at the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show. They were not road-legal and their current whereabouts are unknown. NIO announced plans for a production run of another 50 cars but that never happened.
The NIO ET9 is a record holder. But as so often, the records are a little vague. In 2017 it set a record lap of 6:45.90 on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife in the category “Non-series/non-road-legal.” The record currently stands at 5:19.546 set by a Porsche 919 Hybrid EVO in 2018.
A more interesting record is the fastest lap by an autonomous vehicle at the Circuit of the Americas, set in 2017 as well. Lap time was 2:40.33. NIO also set a record lap time for electric cars (this one with a driver): 2:11.30. For comparison, the fastest lap ever on this track is 1:36.169, set by Charles “Losing Point” Leclerc in a Ferrari F1 car in 2019.
Sometimes, some of the EP9’s are displayed in NIO stores around China, even now, six years after the car first debuted.
Qiantu K50: Qinda Qonfusing
Ha, the Qiantu K50, an electric supercar manufactured by Qiantu Motor. It’s a complicated story even for Chinese standards. I’ll be brief. The K50 was originally developed by a design company. It debuted at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show. Response was so positive that the company decided to produce it, and the production car was unveiled in 2015. Sadly, things then took a bit longer than expected with a corporate ownership change and other troubles. In the meantime, Qiantu unveiled a convertible version and a smaller sportscar, the K20.
Finally, in 2018, the K50 launched on the Chinese car market. the company opened trendy shops in Beijing and Shanghai and sold a bunch of the things. Then, there was another ownership change and a distracting side-project with Farnova Automotive (see above). The result was that production of the K50 stopped. By early 2022, however, production resumed again, and the K20 also seems set for production.
That is great, but tech-wise the K50 is a little outdated by now. On the other hand, it is still the only Chinese electric supercar that you can actually buy and drive on the road. How it all pans out is uncertain. I just checked the manufacturer’s website and it seems down. So perhaps the revival turns out to be short-lived.
The current K50 sells for 754.300 yuan ($108,300 USD). It has a dual-motor four-wheel drive powertrain with a total output of 435 hp and 680 Nm. Top speed is 200 km/h and 0-100 takes 4.6 seconds. The 78.84 kWh battery takes the K50 380 NEDC kilometers afar. A 20-80% fast charge takes 45 minutes. Interesting sidenote: in 2019 US company Mullen Technologies announced plans to assemble the K50 in California and sell it for $125,000 USD. The plan came to nothing and Mullen is busy now with a ‘Five’ electric SUV.
Weird special edition unveiled at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show. Never made it to the market.
Techrules GT96/AT96 and Ren/Ren RS: Turbines!
Techrules was a carmaker founded in 2015 in Beijing. It was a subsidiary of the TXR-S Group, a company that makes air bearings, air compressors, ultra-high-speed permanent magnet motors, and micro turbines. Techrules created four concept cars to promote their TREV technology. TREV is a kind of EREV. TREV stands for Turbine Recharging Electric Vehicle. It uses a gas turbine as a range extender to recharge the batteries. The turbine does not power the wheels directly. The company’s motto is: “New Tech. New Rules.” Techrules’ cars are in the Asphalt 8 and 9 racing games, so clearly they do indeed rule.
First, they developed a chassis. This formed the basis of the Techrules concept cars. They wanted to make supercars. So the chassis had racecar suspension and a tiny one-seat cabin. The turbine sits right behind the cabin. I imagine that could be a bit noisy, but, you know, deal with it. It’s new tech and new rules.
Techrules GT96/AT96: Gas Turbine Power And Six Electric Motors
The Techrules GT96/AT96 twin debuted at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. The GT was the roadcar version and the AT a hardcore track version. They had the same powertrain: six electric motors — one for each front wheel and two for each rear wheel. The battery pack sat under the floor. The maximum speed of the gas-powered turbine was 96,000 rpm. Techrules claimed a combined output of 1030 hp and 8640 Nm (at the wheels). Dry weight was 1380 kilo (3,042 pounds), which ain’t bad.
To get there, the 96 had a carbon fiber monocoque and body. It was very fast; 0-100 in 2.5, 0-200 in 7, 0-300 in 16, and a “limited” top speed of 350 km/h (217 mph). The battery specs are a tad unclear. In 2016 Techrules said it was a 20 kWh unit, but later they claimed 30 kWh. Pure electric range was 150 and full range no less than 2000 kilometers. That’s aircraft-kind of range. Well, no wonder. Aircrafts got turbines too. Techrules should build a flying car. The AT96 was a functional car and it did a track test on the Silverstone circuit, in England.
Techrules Ren/Ren RS: Middle Driver, Diesel Turbine
The Ren debuted one year later at the 2017 Geneva show. It was a more civilized car, intended for comfortable road trips with great haste. The Ren RS, however, was a very hardcore and track-only. The Ren was designed by the famous Italian studio Giugiaro, and it showed. There was more Italian influence: The chassis was developed by L.M. Gianetti, an engineering and racing firm. At the time, Techrules said production of the Ren would start in 2018. Didn’t happen, but it was a great car.
The Ren had a McLaren F1-style three-seat interior with the driver sitting in the middle. It had a fighter-jet canopy that opened to the front. The Red was a luxurious car with lots of leather and wood. The RS was racier, with only one seat and a shipload of extra wings. The drivetrain setup was the same as on the 96, but it had more power: 1287 hp and 7800 Nm at the wheels and 2340 Nm at the shafts.
Intriguingly, the turbine was powered by… diesel! Top speed was 330 km/h and 0-100 took 2.5 seconds. Dry weight was 1630 kilo, 300 kilo heavier than the 96. Range was 800 kilometers and the pure-electric range was 200 kilometer. The concepts never made it to production and the technology has never been applied to real cars. Too bad, because putting a turbine on a motorcar is just too cool not to exist.
Trumpchi EnLight & Trumpchi Enpulse & Aion Supercar: Get On The Trumpchi Train
Trumpchi is a brand under GAC. Trumpchi entered the world stage in 2010, much earlier than Trump, so they got the name-bragging right. The brand makes a wide-ranging lineup of fine but not overly exciting cars. Like many Chinese brands they plan to go fully electric. And what do you need for that? A supercar, of course.
The Trumpchi EnLight debuted at the 2016 Guangzhou Auto Show, where I met it in person. It looked more like a spaceship than a supercar, with enormous butterfly doors hinged on the B-pillar. It has aero wheels and a slippery body. Trumpchi said it had four-wheel drive for normal road use and a “time-attack rear-wheel drive mode” for on track, which sounded pretty cool.
Inside, it had seats fitted in wooden frames and something called the “Eco Box”, which regulated the air quality in the cabin, and increased “the humanistic and natural taste as an indoor landscape, which indicates the future development of human culture.“ [Editor’s Note: What the hell am I looking at in that picture? – JT]
The Trumpchi Enpulse debuted at the 2020 Beijing Auto Show. It was a way more realistic vision on an electric supercar. It was a compact roadster with scissor doors and angular lines. The show car had no roof but Trumpchi showed a version with a removable panoramic-glass roof on a backdrop. That backdrop held more secrets, as it also unveiled a track-version of the Enpulse with a fixed roof. The Empulse had a new powertrain with dual motors and a two-speed transmission. At the show, Trumpchi said they intended to produce the Enpulse. As it turns out they won’t, and yet they will. You’ll see.
Imagine you are a car brand badly wanting a supercar. Your owner lets you develop two supercar concepts. When the second one debuts, the owner announces production. You are delighted. And then: Misery comes along. Like every other Chinese car company, GAC likes to launch a new brand and/or sub-brand every year or so. In 2018 GAC dutifully launched the Aion sub-brand, a line of EVs. This sub-brand morphed into a stand-alone brand in 2020, now aiming at the high-mid end market. And what do you need to promote that? A supercar of course. So in 2021, GAC cruelly moved the supercar project from Trumpchi to Aion. You had been waiting for so long. It was all for nothing.
Aion only released one image of the upcoming vehicle. It looks similar to the Trumpchi Enpulse, but it seems lower and it has a fixed roof. The yet unnamed supercar uses a dual-motor powertrain that’ll do 0-100 in 1.9 seconds. That’s faster than the proposed Tesla Roadster (two seconds) but slower than the Roadster SpaceX Package (1.1). Aion said the supercar will cost one million yuan (140,000 USD) when it hits the market next year. A steep step. Aion’s current most-expensive car is the LX Plus (first car here), a crossover SUV with 490 hp for $62,010 USD.
Update: the Aion electric supercar has since been unveiled. It is called the Aion Hyper SSR, it has 1225 hp and does 0-100 in 1.9 seconds. It’ll launch in 2023, starting at 1.3 million ($186,000 USD)
Windbooster Titan: Hell Of A Name
If this was a coolest name contest the Windbooster Titan would have won. Just say it slowly: Wiiindbooooster Tiiitaaan. Probably one of the best car names ever. The machine debuted in 2016 at a tuning show in the pretty southern city of Shenzhen. The Titan was developed by the Windbooster Car Corporation (Wayback), a company owned by Cammus, a large Chinese performance-parts and electric cart maker. Sadly, the Windbooster Car Corporation has since died and the car was subsequently renamed to Cammus Titan, which is simply not cool enough.
The Titan was a working prototype, powered by two motors in the back, one motor on each wheel. Output was a windboosting 500 hp and 1000 Nm. Top speed was 260 km/h and it winded to 100 in 3.9 seconds. Interestingly, Windbooster also claimed a 200-250 time of 5.9 seconds. I know no other carmaker using that metric. The 72 kWh battery pack was located behind the seats. Range was 400 kilometers and a fast-charge took only 1.5 hours. The Windbooster had a titanium alloy frame, a carbon fiber body, and a perfect weight distribution of 42% front, 58% rear. Only one was ever made and Cammus still displays it proudly on its website today. And rightly so, cars like the Windbooster Titan come around only once in every generation, and we can’t have it blowing away.
They did manufacture a kiddie-car version.
In 2019, the Windbooster Car Corporation also worked on an interesting side project: the Windbooster E86, an electrified version of the Toyota GT86. The gasoline motor went out and in came a 203 hp Windbooster-developed electric powertrain. The company claimed a 45:55 weight distribution, improved handling, a 0-100 in 5.5 seconds, and a “200-250” kilometer range.
Even though many Chinese car makers have shown electric supercars, only the Qiantu K50 made it to serious production. The Aion supercar, however, seems for real this time, so that’ll be number two. The Leap S01 is supremely cool and I hope other car makers will develop similar cars to create a new segment. Many of the concepts came with exotic and sometimes strange technologies, ideas, and names, but that is a good sign, showing an industry in permanent flux and hurry. With Techrules, I joked about flying cars. Well, that’s not really a joke anymore. Several Chinese companies are working on such machinery; I’ll get back to that in an upcoming story.