Strange Bedfellows: American EV Company Partners With China's Hongqi

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
strange bedfellows american ev company partners with chinas hongqi

World leaders like to travel in comfort, security, and style — which is why you never see presidential motorcades formed around a Nissan Versa. Instead, security details crowd around something big, black, and closely tied to a domestic nameplate if the nation in question has such a manufacturer. In China, the preferred choice among high-ranking government officials has been FAW Group’s Hongqi luxury brand. Translated into English, the name means “Red Flag” and it’s the pride of China, even though the bulk of FAW’s premium models are a redux of various automotive products produced by foreign manufacturers.

That includes Hongqi’s first vehicle, the CA72. Launched in 1958 as a model exclusive to state institutions and the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the CA72 was basically a 1955 Chrysler sedan with a different grille. While that model line has had its own evolution, subsequent FAW products from the modern era benefited from joint partnerships with automakers like Mazda, General Motors, Toyota, and Audi.

A new joint venture specifically targeting Hongqi is now underway, and its a curious one. An American electric vehicle startup named SilkEV is apparently teaming up with the brand that symbolizes the CCP to produce high-end performance cars, and they’re spending a bundle to do so.

Considering Hongqi is known for manufacturing luxury products, zippy EVs are a step out of its comfort zone. However, Reuters reports the duo plans to invest 10 billion yuan ($1.41 billion USD) to make electric sports cars under the Red Flag marquee:

Silk EV on Monday told Reuters it has signed a memorandum of understanding with FAW to launch a joint venture in the state-owned automaker’s hometown of Changchun, northern China, to make cars it has dubbed the S-series.

The plan was first reported on Friday by state media CCTV and Xinhua. FAW confirmed the CCTV report to Reuters.

S-series, eh? Sounds like Hongqi’s habit of borrowing from other nameplates hasn’t abated. But at least it’s getting more creative. Besides, there are plenty of non-Chinese automakers that have been trying to parody the German way of doing things for years (cough, Cadillac) instead of evolving their existing modus operandi.

While Silk EV’s status as an LLC officially makes it an American company based in New York City, it has offices in China and Italy, with the brunt of its engineering and design work focused on the former market. What that all entails remains hazy. Its website describes it as complete auto solutions provider (provided they’re electric) with “an elite team of engineers.” No examples were provided for either, and this is the first we’ve heard of the firm.

Cursory research shows Silk’s head of U.S. operations, Justin Krane, previously worked as legal council for Trella Urban Forestry Technology LLC (where he’s still employed). He was also quoted in a press release last year when Acorn International promoted the company in China. Other than the address for his law office matching the address given for the automotive business, that’s about all we’re likely to learn until Silk EV responds for comment.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media says FAW plans to broaden Hongqi appeal and double its annual sales to 200,000 units by the end of 2020. While the pandemic may upend those plans for growth, the overall strategy involves increasing its lineup of 10 models to 21 by 2025.

The first product Silk EV is likely to lay its hands on is the Hongqi S9 (below) — a 1,400 hp hypercar that debuted (in concept form) at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show and looks a bit like the McLaren Senna. FAW Group chairman Xu Liuping said the S9 will be capable of 62 mph in under 2 seconds thanks to its “V8T hybrid power system” (presumably a turbocharged V8 helped by small electric motors). The car is also supposed to boast a top speed of 250 mph, a maximum range of 373 miles, all while still being incredibly comfortable, sharp, and a bunch of other stuff that makes it sound too good to be true.

[Images: VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock; moonfish8/Shutterstock]

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  • Agent86 Agent86 on Apr 29, 2020

    Roads are not "set aside for motor vehicle use." Neither legally nor in practice. Horses, mopeds, unicycles, skateboards, scooters, whatever you've got is legal on the road in my state, except on limited access highways. If you're a driving enthusiast, other modes and their users are not your enemy. Who's slowing you down? Is it the guy on the scooter? The ped crossing at the light? Or is it the endless sea of Camry and Odyssey drivers dawdling along, bored, half looking at their phones? Isn't that the biggest difference between real-world driving and the winding open road in the car commercials?

  • -Nate -Nate on Apr 29, 2020

    This is the only 1/2 decent looking new car I've seen in years . Thanx for the comments all ! =8-) . -Nate

  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.
  • K. R. Worth noting that the climate control is shared with (donated to) the Audi 5000 of the mid-late 1980s.
  • Sloomis Looks like 108,000 miles to me, not 80,000. Not much better though...