If there’s one category where it seems China’s car industry is well on its way to becoming a global leader, it’s in the all-important category of giving not one single shit. By that I mean I’ve been seeing some genuinely fun, oddball designs coming from major Chinese automakers, the kinds of things that can not be the product of focus group thinking, unless perhaps the process of finding focus group participants involves stuffing a handful of the fun kind of mushrooms into their mouths. A great example of this is the recently-shown Wuling Hongguang Mini EV Retro Car Concept. I mean, just look at this thing.
It’s based on what has been the best-selling EV in China, the roughly $5,000 Wuling Hongguang Mini EV. It has the same 27 horsepower electric motor, and a choice of 9.3 kWh lithium-iron phosphate battery good for about 75 miles or a nearly 14 kWh battery that’ll take you about 105 miles. Both can be had as nickel-metal-cobalt batteries if you have metallic preferences. There’s even a long range one that’ll go almost 175 miles. It’ll also hit 62 mph, just enough for highway use, so it’s a small city car but pretty damn usable.
As you can see the styling is clean and modern and, for something with the proportions of a cartoon, pretty serious. This new retro variant, I’m happy to report, is very much not.
Let’s look at this thing:
Oh boy. It’s bonkers. I love it. According to our pals at Car News China, the design and modifications were done by an outside firm, but the car is showing up on official Wuling sites, so they speculate that actual production of this concept is a real possibility.
A good amount has been modified to make the EV look like a retro fever dream, with the whole front plastic clip replaced with the retro fascia seen here, complete with those round headlamps and the chrome bumper, mounted low and likely mostly for looks. If you look at the side view, you can see the cutlines where the original car’s headlamp units would have been mounted:
Those rear wheel skirts may actually add a tiny bit of range by providing some aero advantages, though I suspect any improvement will be killed by the big-ass roof rack on top. The roof is the color of rich, fragrant leather, but I suspect it’s just paint. I also love the little wicker basket on the back, and I like the chrome trim and odd tiny indicators and all the fussy madness.
Plus the deeply strange concentric-ovals grille reminds me of a car that, otherwise, I’d never think of in the context of this thing: A Bristol 411. Look!
See? Yes, the shape is different but the set of cars that use concentric anythings for a grille design is a terribly small set. It never doesn’t look strange and spider-webby to me, but I think it kinda works here.
The interior seems to have a significant upgrade from the baseline edition, with plusher-looking seats, contrasting color panels, and a generally clean and airy look, no small achievement in a car this tiny.
I hope this thing makes it to production, if only because I love seeing big companies do crazy shit like this. These sorts of projects remind me a bit of Nissan’s famous Pike cars, lighthearted adaptations of mass-market econoboxes with some fun retro design elements, and I adore those. With EVs, you’re already giving up a certain amount of idiosyncrasies that were byproducts of different combustion car engineering approaches and designs, so the visual design and materials used in an EV become more important, which means that there should always be a place for strange, fun experiments like this.
Let that freak flag fly, Wuling.