Chevrolet's First Chinese EV Hits the Market at a Difficult Time

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
chevrolets first chinese ev hits the market at a difficult time

The price seems right, the range looks good, and the body? Well, we’ve seen far more ungainly vehicles achieve success in the past. The Chevrolet Menlo, the bowtie brand’s first EV in China, went on sale in the troubled nation last week with both pros and cons in its corner.

For American viewers who can only look at the Bolt and wish it looked like this, there’s clearly design hope for a U.S.-bound model.

The Menlo shares its China-only SAIC-GM platform with the Buick Velite 6, with more inches placed between the axles then the Chevy Bolt and its overseas derivatives. Starting price is a rock-bottom (for U.S. buyers) $22,600, give or take a few bucks depending on up-to-the-minute exchange rates. Range amounts to 410 km (255 miles) on the optimistic New European Driving Cycle.

General Motors is in it to win in China’s low-priced “new energy vehicle” game — a market with no shortage of similarly low-cost competition.

The extra cargo capacity over domestic EV city cars and sedan contenders, plus the attributes mentioned above, give the Menlo a decent shot at capturing buyers. Also in its favor are a government incentive reduction that’s now been put on hold. The subsidy cut was to go into effect on July 1st, but last year’s cratering of the Chinese new car market, which is biased in favor of EVs, led the one-party state to hold off on further reductions.

The biggest threat to near-term Menlo sales is, obviously, the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. Last week, the Chinese government announced an easing of travel restrictions out of fear of further economic damage, though restrictions ramped up in the already locked-down Hubei province, home to much of the country’s manufacturing base, in addition to roughly 60 million residents.

The first half of February saw new car sales drop 92 percent, the result of strict quarantine measures. In January, sales of all new vehicles fell 43 percent, with battery electric vehicles down 68 percent, year over year.

Even before the viral outbreak, China’s GDP was expected to drop in 2020 — a repeat of 2019. However, the Menlo’s low purchase price places it within range of a large swath of Chinese society, and sales figures from the supposedly disastrous 2019 reveal buoyancy in the EV market, despite the subsidy slashing. While new energy vehicles fell over 3 percent last year, the drop had its genesis in the public’s sudden U-turn on plug-in hybrids. Actual electric vehicles enjoyed growth of 43 percent.

Hosting design traits seen on the upcoming U.S.-market Chevrolet Trailblazer, the Menlo gives us a good idea of what a new domestic Chevy crossover EV could look like. GM plans to build the Bolt EUV at its Orion Township, Michigan assembly plant, with a launch occurring late this year.

[Images: General Motors]

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  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.
  • Stuart de Baker Chris! When asked for car advice, I just ask 'em what they want out of a car. And I have my prompts: fun to drive, safety, economy, longevity (I have Consumer Reports annual auto issues going back so I can help people with used cars, too), road trips vs in town, etc, and what sort of body style do they want and why. (If they want an SUV because they think it's safer, I'll suggest they consider large sedans, but if they put major emphasis on safety, I'll check the latest safety stats for whatever cars might satisfy their other desires.
  • Stuart de Baker I don't speak to Jeeps and I don't approve of driving off road, especially in places like Utah where the vegetation won't come back for years.
  • Kanu Actually, I think this makes a certain amount of sense.The average age of light vehicles in operation in the US is now 12.2 years. This means that the typical useful life of a light vehicle is around 25 years.The big virtue of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is that the infotainment system in your car uses the relatively up-to-date technology of your smartphone rather than the vintage technology that existed when your car was built.But the useful life of EVs is nowhere near 25 years. It’s more like 8 years. That’s when the battery needs to be replaced, and that’s when you discover that the price of the new battery is more than the market value of your eight-year-old car with a new battery.So if your EV has built-in infotainment technology, that technology will still be relatively up-to-date when your EV goes to the scrap yard.