While all the hype of China’s electric-car boom is focused on shiny new upstarts like Xpeng, Nio and the fluctuating fortunes of Elon Musk’s Tesla, it would be premature to write off the old guard just yet.
SAIC Motor, which traces it roots back to the early days of China’s auto industry in the 1940s, is working to make sure its 15-year reign atop the country’s sales charts doesn’t end anytime soon.
Just this year, it has rolled out two new EV brands (including one to take on Tesla and Nio at the top end of the market), announced plans for an IPO of its hydrogen-car development unit, tipped money into Chinese self-driving startup Momenta and is looking to buy two ships to almost double its export capacity. It’s also looking to beef up its Xiangdao Chuxing ride-hailing unit to offer a broader suite of services.
More recently, it’s lodged about 100 applications to register brand names containing the Chinese characters for “Metaverse” for everything from bed sheets to kitchenware – jumping on the interest created in the virtual reality sci-fi world that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has staked his company’s future on.
It’s a remarkable transformation for state-controlled SAIC, and one that was unthinkable just a few years ago when it was solely a car manufacturer.
But you could say the same for all legacy automakers, from General Motors to Volkswagen (SAIC’s two foreign partners in China), to Toyota, Nissan and Mercedes — all of which are pouring tens of billions of dollars into an electric future.