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In China, cheap mini-cars are revolutionizing electric vehicles

Flashy colors and Mickey stickers: in China, mini-cars that can be personalized like fashion accessories are revolutionizing electric vehicles without spending a fortune in remote parts of the country. China is the world's leading market for electric cars. And the Asian giant, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases in absolute terms, is targeting car sales in 2035 made up mostly of electric or hybrid vehicles. Electrics are already commonplace in big cities and wealthy neighborhoods, where top models from Tesla and its Chinese rival BYD are sold. However, in an increasing number of less developed regions, Hongguang Mini of the local Wuling brand is preferred. This small two-door electric car has already sold more than 1.2 million units. Sold at low prices, starting at around 30,000 yuan (3,900 euros), it is a hit in small towns. he stows away his shopping in the trunk of his Hongguang Mini, whose design is reminiscent of the Smart. The Hongguang Mini is ideal “for picking up children (at school), shopping and going to work”, assures this 47-year-old driver, who did not want to give her full name, she met in Liuzhou. This city in southern China, which has a population of about 4 million, is famous for its misty mountains and rice noodles with snails. – Candy pink – This is where Wuling brand Hongguang Mini (pronounced “Rongue-gouangue”) are made. To support the transition to electric energy, local authorities have increased the number of charging stations and offered assistance and parking spaces at reduced prices. Tang Wenhui and his family spent about 60,000 yuan (more than 7,500 euros) to buy a Hongguang Mini, which is equal to a year's salary. This driver assures that the choice of an electric model was not dictated by environmental reasons at all. “I just wanted something to take around town,” says this 23-year-old developer. The small Hongguang Mini measures approximately 3 meters in length and 1.5 meters in width and can accommodate up to four people. The lithium-ion battery gives it a range of 215 kilometers, according to its manufacturer. These are the oldest models that sell for around 30,000 yuan, eight times cheaper than the Model 3, Tesla's flagship product. Wuling is not the only brand that offers electric mini-cars. Local manufacturers Dongfeng Motor, Chery and Geely have also invested in this niche. But their cars are distinguished by candy pink and lemon yellow bodies, as well as limited editions named after French cakes or Japanese game consoles. – “Fashion accessory” – They have spawned a community of fans, “Wuling girls”, and those addicted to the brand are willing to pay a bit more to personalize their car with brightly colored dots or cartoon characters. Mrs. Cao, ruby ​​red, is decorated with Mickey Mouse heads on the body, and its steering wheel is covered in hearts. “He's cute,” smiles his owner, whom we met at the charging station. The Hongguang Mini's strength is that “in small towns (they are) considered more of a fashion accessory than a vehicle,” notes analyst Tu Le of Beijing-based specialist firm Sino Auto Insights. Because of this, their owners mostly buy “accessories to decorate and make them unique”. emphasizes Tu Le. China, which is seeking to reduce its polluting emissions and its dependence on foreign oil, is putting the turbo on electricity. Dozens of local brands have popped up there in recent years in a fast-growing niche. A sign of the dynamism of Chinese manufacturers, BYD took the title of the largest global seller of electric vehicles from American Tesla in the fourth quarter of 2023. mjw/ sbr/ehl/nth

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