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The Qiantu K50 BEV Sports Car: The First Chinese Branded Car May Finally Penetrate the US Market, Backhandedly—and it’s All Electric

For decades Chinese car companies have all tried to enter the US car market to meet some kind of failure. Learning from the lessons of Chinese car companies past, one car maker known as Qiantu Motors (Dragonfly logo, means “freedom”), is teaming up with a California based electric car and energy startup to make its first foray into the US market with a battery electric sports car to take on Tesla’s portfolio. Qiantu starts the competition against the Roadster II, with the 2020 Qiantu K50.
Posted: December 20, 2018 - 2:59AM
Author: Al Castro


If Qiantu is successful it will have gone where no Chinese auto maker has gone before, and that’s penetrating the US market with their Chinese car product under their Chinese brand. And in the auto industry as you dear readers know, brand is everything. By selling their sports car first, it’s apparent that Qiantu plans on taking Tesla on first and afterwards by then selling a competitor model to the Model S, then Model 3. Qiantu’s angle seems to be that they intend to sell premium cars in America, that unlike Tesla’s, comes with an “unexpectedly affordable” price. But we haven’t seen or heard anything about specific US prices yet:

About the Chinese Auto Industry in America:

  • Chinese auto manufacturers for years have been trying to sell their cars here in America. None have succeeded to date.
  • Seeing how aggressive the Japanese and Koreans were when they first came here to compete, understandably American apprehension to allow this, sets in.
  • It was enough to trust the Japanese, especially after the war, and another thing to trust the Koreans with their crap Hyundai Excel’s (contrary to the name) for $5,000, a bargain back then.
  • Americans will be skeptical of any Chinese brand they can trust.
  • The Chinese too can be overly aggressive in their industrial practices: in 2005 less than 6 million vehicles were produced in China. Today they’re making 29 million vehicles annually to become the world’s largest car market.
  • 40% of the vehicles made in China were assembled by companies not in existence at the turn of the last century.
  • The US was the largest market before China overtook it: for years about 7-8 million vehicles a year were made here. Today it hovers around 17 million US vehicles per year.
  • GAC Motors is still trying to penetrate the US market with a small line of products it’d like to sell here, they’re trying through Chrysler last checked, and as of yet hasn’t given up.
  • Berkshire Hathaway invested BYD is the biggest player in the Chinese car market. No one should be surprised if they find a way into the US market.
  • Here comes Qiantu and K50. Just one vehicle at a time.
  • There’s the backhanded way also, setting an “American start up car company” that’s heavily Chinese invested with Chinese principals running the show, and Americans included as a front. Some say that’s what Faraday Future is about.

About Qiantu Motors:

  • It is an all electric brand.
  • Established 2015 as a subsidiary of CH-AUTO Technology Co., a Beijing-based auto design firm.
  • It’s parent firm, CH-AUTO Technology Co., was founded in 2003 by Qiantu’s current Chairman, Lu Qun.
  • Lu is an engineer, and he originally worked for Beijing Jeep, a venture between Jeep and state-owned car maker Beijing Auto Industry.
  • Lu helped establish Qiantu when he began to see the potential of an electric car market in China.
  • Qiantu’s plant is in the east Chinese city of Suzhou and can produce 50,000 assembled units per year.
  • Plans are for a five electric car model range, and for that range to compete toe to toe with Tesla’s.
  • The K50 is the heir apparent to become their halo and introductory vehicle into the US and subsequent markets.

About Mullen Technologies:

  • A private California electric car maker startup, battery technology developer, car sales and distributer, and energy storage solutions company.
  • Primary focus is “to the development, sustainability, and the affordability of clean energy.”
  • Primary focus on making the most efficient least expensive state of the art batteries and/or storage of energy.
  • Manufacturer and distributor of battery electric vehicles.
  • Produces a BEV sedan currently in production on its own, it seems they’re picking up where Coda Electric left off.
  • Partners in making vehicles with Chinese car companies BAIC and now Qiantu.
  • Owns CarHub, one of the largest distribution networks of finding, selling, and owning a car, which they’ll use as a base for a dealer network to sell their own, possibly also their partners’ vehicles as well.
  • They are the Foxconn to Apple Corporation’s Qiantu Motors in this industrial equation. It’s a Qiantu product made by Foxconn’s Mullen.

The Qiantu K50:

  • This car will probably be their future halo if successful, like Roadster is for Tesla.
  • An “all electric luxury sports car.”
  • “Meets exotic automobile criteria without the exotic price tag.”
  • 2 seater, aluminum frame and carbon fiber body panels.
  • Dual motor, 402 BHP, 479 lb. ft. Torque, 0-60 in 4.6, pretty good, but not super car performance.
  • 78 kW battery pack.
  • Range European: 228 miles.
  • Apparent or expected EPA range: 236 miles.
  • Top speed 124 mph.
  • Already being assembled in China and on sale. They’re looking to also assemble it in the USA.
  • Imported assembly-ready components and American sourced key parts will make US assembly go easier and more inexpensively.
  • Limited number of reservations accepted by Mullen in 2019.
  • The car will be in production and available for sale on 2020.
  • The Chinese price with before subsidies is 754,300 yuan, about $109,320 USD, which is about mid-range C7 Corvette price point, not at exotic car stratosphere.
  • The Tesla Roadster which it is supposed compete with, supposedly will have a 600 mile range and will start at $175,000 USD.
  • Their dilemma is to find a price point for the car to be taken seriously as a sports car and as a brand, but reasonable priced enough to assuage highly skeptical American customers to win them over.

By introducing the car this way, Quiantu does several things that predecessors were unable to accomplish. By assembling the car in the states, the company avoids most tariff issues. Using parts from both China and the states, the company does things like take on strict Federal regulator issues and cuts costs. Getting help from an American company that also makes cars and has a network for selling them like Mullen Technologies has with CarHub, is also a plus. And in making that alliance with American electric car startup Mullen Technologies, Qiantu has an advantage over her predecessors who tried the same endeavor but didn’t succeed: access to a plant to start production ASAP and the labor capital already working and invested there, and places to sell right off the assembly line.

The American Landscape for the Chinese Car Industry

Did you know that the number one seller of electric cars worldwide, the company that sold the most electrics in the world in 2017 was not Tesla? Correct, not Tesla. It was BYD, China’s largest electric car maker, in fact as of now, the largest electric vehicle manufacturer in the world. If BYD were so inclined and empowered right now, they could easily not only mow over Tesla and GM with their electric portfolio to overwhelm them, but they could also take out the best poised company in the world with arguably at present the best electric program any car company has at the moment, and that’s VW Group. The only reason BYD is not a threat to VW at the moment, is because they haven’t penetrated the US market. Not yet. So VW still has time. The threat for now is Tesla. But someday, it will be BYD. But not today. The focus is now on Qiantu.

Regardless of what industrial battles car makers will wage against each other in the future, Chinese influence in the US auto market is here to stay. Moving forward with their 10 year plan toward full electrification, just about all of the all-electric designs manufactured by GM, some of them intended to be produced and sold in the US home market only, have a good chance of being designed out of GM’s design studio in Shanghai. The Chevy Bolt was design in Korea, the first volley of GM electric cars from their new BEV dedicated platform were all designed in China.

So far the only way for Chinese car manufacturers to make it into the USA was doing so with their cars branded by a global marque based elsewhere. In the case of Geely, it outright bought its way into the US market with its purchase of Volvo, which allows them to manufacture the Volvo S90 in China and sell it globally. The Buick Envision is built by Shanghai GM, which is a collaboration between GM and SAIC Motor. What Chinese car makers want to do is sell their cars on their own with their own brands, which is a totally different proposition when it comes to the US market.

And this is where politics, cultural differences with racial prejudice, and the economy come into play, where the Chinese are often accused of not buying enough American products for us to have that massive trade deficit with China that we now have with them. And now here they come, wanting to sell their cars on their own with their own brands, here. Understandably, some Americans are rolling their eyes. Some say the Chinese love to make things to sell, but they don’t like to buy as much, except for our national debt, our stocks, real estate, and our premium and luxury cars. They also like to come in droves to Hawaii and to the mainland for vacation, and then go home, some say, but that’s it.

The Race Card: All Three Kinds, the Car, the Competition, and Culture Clash

Culture and prejudice become a factor in the car equation: last winter when BAC Motor was tinkering and kicking the tires to some kind of alliance with FCA Chrysler when CEO Sergio Marchionne was alive and seemed well (still hard to believe he was gone that quickly) looking for a merger, BAC was eyeing FCA’s dealer network to place their vehicles in to get a break into the North American market. Some Senate members, one their senior Democratic leader, flat outright said a BAC deal to take over Chrysler or even to sell cars under their roof was DOA on the Senate floor, arguing that Chinese automotive trade rules are "manifestly unfair, and a typically unfortunate example of China’s rapacious trading policies." A cadre of Congress members had no problem with the idea of letting GM go bankrupt by providing no bailout that Congress eventually gave them, but some of those same congressional members, a few bipartisan mind you, had a problem of selling the Jeep brand to the Chinese, as there’s a historical connection between the US military a Jeep once started as being.

Hmm, is that so? Yeah, the Chinese may be “rapacious,’ but if that’s so, where was all that concern when GM was trying to off the Hummer brand? Hummer started as US military, and when the Chinese were thinking about buying it, nobody complained. That was about killing something off to go to another market. How about killing something in our home market so deep in our history and culture? How could anyone overlook that, but not GM when it was their turn at extinction, America’s premier auto company, home of “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet,” and Cadillac, “the American Standard for the World”?! Can any of you think of any other two brands more American? Or unless this is about the “if I can’t have you, nobody else can,” which is doubtful, if you are culturally enlightened, you know what this is really all about . . .

But on the other hand and for balance, if the South Koreans and Japanese can play “the Asian industrial auto thing” heavy handedly as they did over the decades as both groups did as they emerged into the American car market at the expense of the American auto industry, at the beginning at the expense of American auto workers, we can expect the Chinese to do it on steroids. And if history is a track record, we should expect the Chinese to cheat where possible to get an edge.

And like the Koreans and Japanese do with autos that come into their borders for sale, they HEAVILY tax them as the Chinese do. As difficult as it is to bring a car into the states on your own when made elsewhere, it is much more difficult to do so in those three countries. And although the opening volleys of trade war that recently started seem to be cooling down with the wiser heads prevailing, this war ain’t over yet. There’s still much at stake for certainty to settle in.

One thing is for certain, however, is that the Chinese are determined to get into the US car market on their own, they’d like to it with one of their brands, but be damned of brand if necessary. About 40% of the current brands in China weren’t around 100 years ago like Opel, Daimler, Ford, or GM. If that’s the case on the mainland, starting one abroad that’s Chinese based and financed shouldn’t make a difference.

A backhanded way is to have Chinese nationals as principals come to the USA to charter a electric car startup, have those nationals primarily run the company, seek permission to finance and essentially change how the company is governed by going to the Chinese mainland or Hong Kong courts for determination, and this is the controversial part, hiring large amounts of Chinese Americans or Chinese nationals verses other kinds of Americans as employees. This is what’s going on at Faraday Future, the California electric strartup, to en masse that their HR head resigned earlier this year after culture shock and clashes between American and Chinese nationals who essentially segregated themselves out of mistrust, boiled over into the media. Faraday has only about $17 million USD at cash left on hand, and they had to go to a Hong Kong Court to seek funding from a principal whose investments are tied elsewhere. This might be the end for the startup that wanted to build a high end premier luxury high performance luxury saloon.

From Qiantu’s Website, Their Official Launch of K50:

Enter Qiantu: Apple Foxconn in Reverse!

With all that above noise, here comes Quiantu, as if it were a running back that picked up a fumbled recovered ball that sees a clear way to get to the end zone to score, and they just might pull it off. And frankly, quite clever in the way they’re going about doing it. They’re taking a rule from the American industrial playbook, and using it not against us as some might say, but toward us. They are getting an American company as a contractor to sign off and make a product for them. Think of the arrangement Apple has with Foxconn over the years to make their electronic telecom products like iPhone, iPad, and iPod. In this case, Mullen Technologies like Foxconn can make their own products like they both do, but in this case Qiantu and Apple are their clients who help them make money for them and themselves by making products branded by their clients. Foxconn makes the Apple product shipped worldwide. Mullen ships the Qiantu product to Mullen’s CarHub dealer network in North America. Cha-ching!

If a Chinese made iPhone is considered American, why not an American made Chinese Quiantu? A Quiantu will still be considered Chinese. And here’s the thing, no iPhone as of yet has been assembled in a factory in the USA to call it American made. By the time the K50 rolls off the line in California in what we’re assuming will be the proposed plant in Moreno Valley, it will be made in both the States and China. And Americans will be assembling it, so they can call it based from whatever country they want (“designed in China, made in America”).

Qiantu’s chairman Lu Qun, in an interview told the South China Morning Post, “we want to be there and compete with others,” speaking of his brand competing in the top two markets, China and the US.

Regardless of whether Qiantu is “made in China or designed in China, we want to make Qiantu a premium and global brand which can meet international standards. If we cannot do this, we are not even competitive in the local market.”

The Qiantu Brand: Make or Break

It is much easier to start off as a luxury brand to penetrate a market with your first product and stay there, than to be mainstream, and work your way up market. Ask VW, Toyota, Nissan/Datsun, recently Hyundai about their struggles. Toyota succeeded with Lexus and the now storied LS400 series sedan.

In VW’s case, it didn’t go so well. They tried to move their brand closer to Mercedes that ironically they directly compete with globally, and they’re still smarting from the 2000’s foray with the super saloon VW Phaeton, the $100,000 VW car everyone else in the world had no problem with, except the Americans. Thank Beetle for that. And thank goodness for VW that was really a Bentley Continental Flying Spur in disguise. Bentley walked away happy as that was really the whole point of Phaeton. But it solidified VW as a mainstream brand. Quiantu needs to careful. That was about the Germans. Now, we have the Chinese, (wink).

So branding is important, and Qiantu is following the German luxury nomenclature in recognizing brand v. product recognition. It’s all about the brand, not the product, that if the product is that good it’ll help promote the brand. This will be important if they intend to penetrate the US market. Like some people not knowing or to care what a E550 is, or a K50 is for that matter, what matters is that like a Mercedes, it is a Qiantu. They’re opening volleys on the right track for a luxury performance brand. Their dragonfly logo encapsulates that spirit of efficient performance with ecology.

About the K50

There is no doubt that the K50 looks like it belongs in the super car range. The problem is what exact segment of sports car should this vehicle fall into? Lamborghini or C7 Corvette? Because it’s expected price point and performance specs under this current variant seems to fall just a bit short in the supercar range it looks like it belongs, and has intentions of competing with. “Meets exotic automobile criteria without the exotic price tag,” hmm, maybe but I don’t think exactly.

It is a two-seater, it has an all aluminum frame for the batteries, efficiency, and performance; it has a carbon fiber monocoque shell, it’s designed cab forward to look rear or mid-engined gasoline powered and it’s dual motored, now a de rigueur for electric high performance motoring. Meng Fanlei, a designer at Qiantu, told the South ChinaMorning Post, the design was inspired by the curves of the human body. “We attached importance to the proportions of the car. We want the car to show the feeling of balance between yin and yang (polar manifestations of the Chinese philosophy Taoism), and also soft and hard,” he said.

It is supposed to compete with the upcoming Tesla Roadster II, however, but with what Tesla is promising for the Roadster, K50 has a bit ways to go. As I wrote, we have nothing official as far as prices to keep in mind that what they charge in China is totally different than what they charge for something like this in the USA. But given that, if what they charge for this car for Chinese customers is an indication, this car would comfortably sit in the $100,000 USD mid range C7 Corvette price point with lower C7 range Corvette performance. Really low range. And there lies the big problem.

K50’s Biggest Problems: Lack of Range, Horses, Top Speed, and Finding the Right Price Point

Let’s get top speed out of the way, okay? I dont think I have a problem with anyone opposing the top speed of 124 mph, and I hope that’s about a speed limiter that can just tick up to make it go faster. Quiantu needs to keep in mind that there are going to be people who’ll want to take this car out on a race track on the weekend and do laps at serious speeds. A speed setting should be considered of not already. This is one of those aspects they need to correct if anyone is gong to take this car seriously.

Another issue is range. As this reporter’s opinion pieces strongly advocate for high ranges for all terrain SUV’s, so must be the case for serious performance electrics. People are disagreeing with me to forget the missions of an all terrain SUV, a real serious one, and a high performance car, particularly an electric one. In the case of an SUV if you want one with a 238 mile range, then you should consider a CUV instead, not an all terrain SUV. This is why Rivian makes available long ranges on their portfolio, because they obviously get it about SUVs.

Why? As it is imperative that any serious off-road all terrain vehicle have a long range for long distance driving that SUVs have always been poised to do, and serious off grid long term use on all terrain with the capability of towing all at once, it is also imperative for a serious supercar to have long ranges to cut down on supercharging issues when long distance driving at high speeds. This is why gas variants of SUVs have 30 gallon gas tanks, and in some cases, an additional portable one strapped on to the back! This is another reason why Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, is featuring a 600 mile range for Roadster II. You can thank the Porsche Taycan for its promise of a 300+ mile range, and you can thank Tesla for its promise of a ~600 mile range for Roadster II. Qiantu is already in a deficit. The 238 mile standard is commuter car sufficient, not for a sports car built for an interstate or autobahn, and not for a serious SUV.

For any brand that’s about gasoline or electric to be considered anything about performance, you really do nowadays need to have at least 500 horses under the hood to just walk into the door to be considered a high performance anything, or a super car, or a muscle or pony car, or an electric performance car of any kind electric. You can thank Mustang 500 for years ago starting the horsepower arms race, and recently Hellcat 707 for that. The K50 falls just short of the magic 500 number, and for a serious sports car they need to be comfortably past that 500 HP marker to be way in the door. I’m sure as we get a bigger and better picture of what the C8 Corvette has to offer, and the Roadster II too, that Qiantu will adjust their specs to compete, at least I’m praying to God I hope so.

Because if they are serious about pulling this off, they need to follow the Lexus LS400 model for success in the American market. In fact, since Toyota isn’t really serious as of yet about making all electric cars, if I was a Qiantu executive, I’d be talking to one of their executives at Lexus who was there at the beginning to find out their successes and failures.

The LS400 was a success because it really was a high performance luxury saloon that ran toe to toe with the legendary S Class. Of course no one took it seriously as a competitor then, but on the spec sheet it had to be toe to toe. Whether the K50 is going to compete with a mid-range C7 Corvette or a Lamborghini Aventador, its has to match up perfectly on specs. Qiantu has some tweaking to do. Do any of you old enough remember the commercials when the LS400 launched with the champagne goblets carefully laden and stacked atop that V8 engine at full throttle? That’s exactly the kind of engineering and marketing that Qiantu needs to do here, and at 400 horses which is quite respectable if it was a gasoline car, is woefully insufficient for a high end high performance sports car, and worded carefully, especially if the supercar range is its intended target. So I do hope somebody over there at Qiantu reads this, to know this reporter loves underdogs that Qiantu is, but like it is for any arms race, you need to come prepared! As President Kennedy once said, “For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.” Qiantu needs to stack up those ponies under the hood!

Tweaking an electric car v. a gas one for horsepower is easy. Finding the right price point for your introductory vehicle for the market to take you seriously as a competitor, is a more trickier one. For years Lexus had to cut the price of the LS for it to remain competitive. It was only after it took off in sales that the price started going up. There’s a good chance Qiantu may not be able to make much money if at all on their car while it gets an American shakedown for a few years. Zhang Yu, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight, told the South China Morning Post, that it is difficult for a Chinese home-grown to position itself as a premium brand as consumers are not willing to pay too much for a Chinese brand. “If Qiantu wants to draw the market’s interest, the price of the car must be very competitive and a lot lower than a Tesla,” Zhang said. In China, the price of a Tesla Model S starts from 657,000 yuan ($95,078 USD in China, the bottom tier Model S variant starts in the US at $77,000 USD).

What Lays Ahead for Qiantu and What They Need to Improve

Whatever the condition the future waters hold for Chinese car makers in the US market, they better wade them even more carefully than the Germans, the Japanese, even the Koreans had to. It took a generation of Americans to forgive and forget and move on with both the Japanese and the Germans after the war. For decades, the Germans gave us the Beetle and the Bus, and for those who could afford them, the Mercedes Pontons and Fishtails, to let us chew on those for a while. The Japanese: a splattering of Datsuns and Toyotas. We slowly digested them to get a taste of the better side of both nations to welcome them back into the fold of trading partners. And eventually friends again. Then they both poured it on to overwhelm us with their cars!

Because of the heavy handedness of the Japanese in their industrial and trading tactics, it took us while to get over that after the resentments we had even after the war. That wasn’t an easy task. Then came the Koreans, they were always our allies, but because of what the Japanese put us though with the onslaught of Japanese cars, the Koreans had to be mindful of their practices as well, that even with them we’ve had trade issues.

Now here comes the Chinese and their cars. Anything the Asians do in their trade policies, the Chinese particularly do it on steroids. At least we can say that the Germans, Japanese, and Koreans are our allies and friends. The Chinese are not our friends. They aren’t our enemies either, but we have to careful when all we can call them really, like the Russians, is our trading partners. And trading partners are not friends. That’s all about business and nothing else. And when you keep it only about business, it simplifies things, but it also makes it a lot easier not to be friends to keep them at distance, and not trust them.

And in the case of the Chinese, all it takes is another reason not to. We trust people until they give you reasons not to. We can only hope Qiantu gets it. So the best that we can hope for from Qiantu, is that they learn from their predecessors’ mistakes. They have to make this car a little faster, last a little longer between recharging, make it a bit more powerful, and make it compete toe to toe against a Lamboghini, or a Ferrari, maybe even the Corvette C7 or C8 but whatever the target, the performce has to match at a price for a Qiantu new on the US market.

And most importantly, above all else, for this car and for the next Qiantu, it must be reliable, more reliable than a Honda or a Toyota ever was. They do this, to have the best reliable reputation of any foreign brand they also do a service to their country. What better reason could there be for pride of a national brand, even one from China, that even Americans don’t mind having in their garage! When that day comes there will be many Chinese beaming with pride! I hope it comes! Watch out America! Qiantu, that means freedom, something we know about, is here!

What do you think of the Qiantu K50? Let us know below!

Photos Courtesy Qiantu Media Press Kit


Jeff Esslair (not verified)    December 21, 2018 - 10:32AM

I have my own option about Chinese products in general that parallels basic common since and fact.

Al Castro    January 3, 2019 - 10:18PM

I’m assuming and sure you meant to spell “opinion” and common “sense.” Well, since your one line is a heavy weight, let me add to this conversation by dropping political correctness a bit and being blunt but honest: there was a time and perhaps still, that I had a big problem stepping onto a wide body commercial aircraft that was assembled in China. I somehow trust the Europeans, the Germans in particular that spearhead aircraft arm of the whole EADS operation. Of course I trust my American brethren with avionic build quality, even our friends the Canadians and the Brazilians. The Chinese? I dunno. Well, here we are, and Airbus is opening a factory in Eastern China assembling A320’s. We’ll all be stepping into them soon. And remember this, about half the Volvo’s and Buicks we have in our garages or we rent at rental counters are now made in China. SO, you have your opinion about Chinese products that parallels basic common sense and fact, and I guess I do too. Something tells me ironically our opinions are both in the same parallel universe! But my values start here: you give reason to trust people until they give you reasons not to. Let’s see how long it takes for the Chinese to have quality issues. So far the Buicks and Volvos seems to be holding up. I’m waiting for that to change too. Sometimes I do like to be proven wrong!