Will Dacia Spring’s Competitors In China Come To Europe? (Part 2)

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In part one of this series, we noted that the Dacia Spring is by far the most affordable battery-electric vehicle on sale in Europe, typically starting under €20,000. But, where are the Dacia Spring’s competitors? Since legacy auto brands are not offering any affordable BEVs to compete with the Spring, we are looking at what’s available in China, and asking … will it come to Europe?

Dongfeng Nano Box. Image courtesy Dongfeng.

We previously noted that the Dacia Spring and its identical twin in China, the Dongfeng Nano Box, are up against even more popular rivals in the Chinese market. The most well-matched examples (in price, size, battery, and charging) are the base BYD Seagull and a mid-spec Leapmotor T03, both of which we detailed in part one. These popular BEVs outsell the Dacia’s Chinese twin by 30× and 5× respectively!

At the same time, we found that smaller “mini BEVs,” like the famous Wuling Mini (below), might look like competitors in key aspects, but their diminutive size makes them best suited for urban use. They would not really be suitable for journeys at Europe’s highway speeds, whereas the Dacia Spring can handle highways, as well as urban use.

Wuling Mini Press Image

Recall that we are looking to roughly match or exceed the specs and price of the Spring and its Chinese twin, the Dongfeng Nano Box, in order to get the same or better value from the vehicle. This means a battery of at least 26.8 kWh (gross), DC fast charging in roughly 30 minutes, and pricing in the ballpark of the twins. What price does the Nano Box go for in China? It has an MSRP of €9,043 (70,700 RMB) and discount deals for 54,700 RMB, or €6,996.

We closed out part one by noting that the next size segment up from the ~3,750mm length represented by the Spring, Seagull, and T03 also offers competitive price, battery, and charging.

The most compelling models currently offered in this larger 4,000 mm segment are the Geely Geometry E, Neta Aya, Wuling Bingo, and new Dongfeng Nammi 01. Let’s now find out more about these affordable BEV models.

Geely Geometry E

The Geely Geometry E is a subcompact crossover, with a length of 4006 mm, making it 27 cm longer than the twins (3,732 mm). For context, the Geometry E is about the same length as the current Volkswagen Polo and the Renault Clio, and a bit longer than the Peugeot 208. Being a crossover, the Geometry’s height is 1,550 mm, about 15 cm taller than those Europeans stalwarts (though similar in height to the twins).

The Geometry E was launched in 2022 and has recently been selling around 3,500 units per month in China.

Dacia Spring's competitors
Geely Geometry E

The Geometry E offers a 29.67 kWh battery, with 30 minute DC charging, for 69,800 RMB, or €8,930. Deals can be found for 65,800 RMB (€8,440).

As well as being a bit larger than our Dacia–Dongfeng twins, the motor is more powerful at 60 kW (versus 33 kW for the twins). The CLTC rated range for this battery is still just over 300 km, so its trip capability between DC charges is modest, around 150 km at highway speeds, but matches that of the twins (see part one for discussion).

There’s also the option of a larger 39.3 kWh battery for 84,800 RMB (€10,880) for those wanting ~33% more range. Deals on this one can be had for 79,800 RMB  (€10,245).

All variants come with a 4 year, 100,000 km vehicle warranty (and the usual 8 year battery warranty). As with all these models, there are plenty of video reviews to be found online if you want more of a feel for the Geometry E.

Some Geely badged vehicles are on sale in parts of Europe already (e.g., Serbia), but the Geometry E is not (yet?) offered. Perhaps the Geometry E could be badged as a Smart (one of Geely’s other brands) and brought to Europe that way.

Neta Aya

The Neta Aya is of a similar form factor to the Geometry E, and also very close in dimensions (length 4,070 mm, height 1,540 mm), and about 30 centimetres longer than the Dacia–Dongfeng twins.

The current Aya model is an update on the Neta V, which launched in 2020. The Aya sells around 2,000 units per month in China. It is also on sale in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other countries in SE Asia.

The Aya comes with a base battery of 33.9 kWh and DC charging in around 30 minutes. CLTC range on this version is 318 km, and should slightly exceed the twins for real-world range, on those occasional days out.

The Aya’s motor power is 40 kW, lower than the Geometry E’s, but higher than the twins’. The MSRP for this entry version is 65,800 RMB, or €8,450. Deals, however, can be found for 58,800 RMB, or €7,550.

There is of course a larger battery option, with 40.93 kWh, available for an MSRP of 76,800 RMB, or €9,860. Deals can bring this down to 69,800 RMB (€8,960). This has a CLTC rating of 401 km, which should translate to around 200 km at modest European highway/national route speeds in fair conditions.

The vehicle warranty on all variants is 3 years, 120,000 km, with 8 years on the battery.

Dongfeng Nammi 01

Dongfeng, the manufacturer of the Dacia Spring and the Nano Box twins, has just released a new model in the larger 4,000 mm class — the Nammi 01.

The Nammi 01 is another sub-compact crossover, with similar dimensions to the others we have detailed above (length 4,030 mm, height 1,570 mm). It has only been on the market for two months and is currently ramping past 1,000 units per month. It hasn’t yet made overseas sales.

The base variant has 31.45 kWh and 30 minute DC charging. CTLC rated range is 330 km, and the motor power is 70 kW. Pricing for this version is 74,800 RMB (€9,600). Deals can be had for 69,800 RMB (€8,960).

The Nammi 01’s interior has some interesting styling touches, especially given the price point:

There is a 42.3 kWh battery version also available which starts from an MSRP of 92,800 RMB (€11,900), although deals can be had for 88,800 RMB (€11,400). This one has a CLTC rating of 430 km, which should translate to at least 210 km real-world range at modest European highway speeds in decent conditions.

I don’t yet have vehicle warranty information, it is likely 3 years and 100,000 km, again with 8 years on the battery.

Since the Nammi 01 is the younger brother of the Dacia Spring, there’s every chance it could be badged under one of the brands of the Renault Group and be brought to the European market.

Wuling Bingo

Last but not least of the four models in this 4,000 mm segment is the big brother of the Wuling Mini, the Wuling Bingo, which launched in early 2023.

The Bingo is, unsurprisingly, of similar size to the others above (length 3,950 mm, height 1,580 mm), despite having a more cutesy front face that can give the impression of smallness:

Wuling Bingo Press Image

The Bingo is already extremely popular in its home market, averaging almost 20,000 units per month. That’s 20x the volume of the Spring’s twin, the Dongfeng Nano Box!

The Bingo started shipping to Indonesia late last year, and likely will arrive elsewhere in SE Asia soon (some Wuling models already sell in Thailand, for example). There is no news yet about its spread further afield.

A mid-tier variant has a battery of 31.9 kWh and a DC charging time of 35 minutes. Its CLTC range rating is 333 km. This version has an MSRP of 73,800 RMB, or €9,470. Discount deals are around, for 65,800 RMB (€8,445).

There’s of course a bigger battery available with 37.9 kWh, with a CLTC rating of 410 km. This one’s MSRP is 88,800 RMB, (€11,395), with deals from 81,800 RMB, or €10,495.

All of these Wuling Bingo variants have motors with 50 kW and come with a vehicle warranty of 3 years or 100,000 km (and the usual 8 years on the battery).

Since the Wuling auto brand is co-owned by General Motors and SAIC (in their SGMW venture), there is a chance that a version of the Wuling Bingo might make it closer towards Europe at some point.

Loads More

Notice that all of the above 4 models have slightly bigger batteries than the Dacia–Dongfeng twins, but the Geometry E and the Neta Aya actually have MSRP prices below that of the 26.8 kWh Dongfeng Nano Box that is our benchmark! The prices of the newer Nammi 01 and Wuling Bingo are slightly higher, but still close and well within the ballpark for cross-shopping.

As should be clear by now, even more potential alternatives — which are almost as affordable — also exist. For example, the Bingo’s bigger (and less cutesy) brother, the “Bingo Plus,” is launching right now, with a length of 4,090 mm. It has a 37.9 kWh battery, “400km” CLTP option, with a likely deal pricing of not more than 89,800 RMB, or €11,500 MSRP.

There’s even a big brother to the Baojun Yep (which we mentioned in part one) called — you guessed it — the Baojun Yep Plus, at ~4,000 mm. This is expected to have a roughly 40 kWh battery and 400 km CLTC rating, and will have an MSPR of around 98,800 RMB, or €12,600. It looks quite stylish:

How Are These Low Prices Possible?

How are these low BEV prices achieved? Compared to what we become habituated to seeing in Europe, these seem to be magically low prices. But there’s no magic going on here, just the ongoing cost reductions of the key BEV technologies. These reductions have already been in progress for many years, are ongoing, and will continue into the future.

Recall that ICE powertrains are inherently complicated. This is unavoidable when trying to tame the high-pressure combustion explosions of volatile fuels for tens or hundreds of millions of cycles and clean them up to levels which reduce their toxicity and emissions. They have thousands of moving parts, many of which have to be assembled together in a way which endures cycles of very high temperatures and pressures over at least 100,000 kilometres (or more). All whilst warrantying the entire system.

BEV powertrains, on the other hand, have relatively few moving parts: the motor and the fixed reduction gear, plus a few cooling pumps, fans, and relay switches. The rest of the system has essentially no moving parts — mostly electrical circuits, transformers (and inverters), and software control. Temperature cycles are much milder than for ICE powertrains. There is no high-pressure block, nor great mechanical stress on components. BEVs powertrains are therefore much simpler to assemble to a level which provides reliability and warranty.

The only initially challenging aspect of cost for BEVs was the cost of batteries for a decent amount of energy storage, enough to make BEVs practical replacements for ICE cars. Even so, with increasing manufacturing scale, and efficiencies, and steadily improving energy density (per weight of constituent materials), the cost per unit energy of batteries has been reducing. The same cost reduction trend (price/performance ratio) is commonplace for technology products (think CPUs, solar panels, and more).

The longstanding guide-marker, since at least 2001 (see, e.g., Delucci & Lipman, 2001), has been that BEVs will “break through” to reach cost parity with equivalent ICE cars in most vehicle segments once battery costs (at the pack level) fall below $100 per kWh. We have discussed this $100 goalpost at CleanTechnica several times over the years (e.g., here, here, and here), as have analysts such as McKinsey & Company and BNEF, amongst many others.

Most of the BEVs we have surveyed in this series use LFP cells. Lithium carbonate pricing temporarily spiked to 5× its long term norms between mid-2021 and Q3 2023, but has since returned to normal. In late January 2024, standard (VDA) format LFP cell prices fell to as low as 400 RMB (€52, $56) per kWh, which is around half of the price 12 months earlier, and prices are continuing on their long-term downward trend.

LFP cells are thermally stable and have very good cycle life. In modestly powered vehicles, the cells can get away with very simple cooling (active air cooling, or even passive cooling). This means that assembling cells into a pack adds at most 25% to the cost of the cells. With cells already passing below 400 RMB per kWh, this entails battery pack prices of 500 RMB (€65, or $70) per kWh, far below the $100 “breakthrough” level. The ~30 kWh LFP battery packs can therefore cost under €2,000.

While battery pack costs are the major component of BEV costs, the cost of other parts of the powertrain have improved greatly also. It’s now common for the electric motor, reduction-gear, and inverter to be packaged (and cooled) as a single unit, sometimes called a “3-in-1” electric drive unit, or “e-axle.” Some manufacturers go further, by adding the DC-DC converter, the onboard AC charger, and the power distribution unit to this integrated package (a “6-in-1” system). BYD’s latest designs also add in the BMS and the vehicle control unit (an “8-in-1” system). This integration further reduces the overall cost.

For the BEVs we have looked at (typically with modest peak power of 30 to 50 kW), the 3-in-1 drive system can cost well under €1000; in large volumes, perhaps under €750. So, combined, the cost of the battery pack and powertrain is under €3,000 in these BEVs and approaching €2,500. This is how they can be offered for sale at €8,000 to €9,000 and still be profitable.

Questions, Questions …

Note that the cells and drive units can be internationally traded at commodity pricing. So the question we should be asking is why aren’t there simple BEVs on sale in Europe at anywhere near these prices?

I intend to dig into this more in future parts of this series, but to start to answer it, we should remind ourselves of another question. Why did almost all of the international automakers, including the Europeans, turn their backs on the initial BEVs they started to demonstrate, lease, and sell — in small numbers — in the 1990s and drop most of their research into EVs? See the 2006 film Who Killed The Electric Car for some reflections.

We can also ask — why is there no real competition between European automakers to offer affordable cars (or any kind) any more, especially when simple economy cars under €10,000 were commonplace a few years ago? And how did European automakers make record profits in 2022?

Is the lack of affordable BEVs in Europe — by any legacy brands — just an accident? Has the attitude and internal culture of the legacy automakers really changed since the 1990s?

I’ve laid out some of the latest information here, and in the links, about the reality of BEV pricing trends outside of the European bubble. I’m sure that our CleanTechnica readers have plenty of thoughts and more data to share about this. Please do share your insights and join in the discussion below — your input will inform the future articles in this series.

Article images courtesy of auto brands.

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