SHANGHAI – WM Motor had just the perfect location and timing for its first ever corporate open day.
The young EV startup opened up its headquarters and updated its latest plans, including its first production vehicle, the AG2020 concept, C2B manufacturing, charging app, channel development and industrial fund, to the press on April 18, a day before Auto Shanghai 2017 opened.
WM Motor currently occupies three floors at an office building inside the massive exhibition complex – National Exhibition and Convention Center – where the biennial Shanghai Auto Show has been held since 2015.
It’s a perfect location, according to company founder, chairman and CEO Freeman Shen.
“It is relatively quiet here situated in the ‘countryside’ of Shanghai and it is right next to Shanghai’s Hongqiao transportation hub so it is convenient for traveling,” said Shen and industry veteran who started the company just one and a half years ago. “But not many people know that this is the perfect venue to test our vehicles: no licenses are required and it is relatively closed off to the public. It takes about 15-20 minutes to circle the entire exhibition venue, perfect for testing our vehicles.”
First “AI” car to begin small scale production in early 2018
The vehicle that Shen referred to is the company’s first production model, what he calls the world’s first mainstream artificial intelligence vehicle. Only the silhouette of the prototype, a crossover SUV expected to be the size of an Audi Q5, was shown to the press.
The vehicle has gone through more than 1 million km of road testing globally and the exterior and interior styling have been frozen, according to Shen. It will have a coefficient of drag of less than 0.3 and begin rolling off production lines in small quantity at a digital factory inside WM Motor’s Oujiangkou NEV Smart Industrial Park in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province early next year. The digital factory, which broke ground on November 23, 2016, will have three times the level of industry average digitalization rate, according to Shen. In May, the first batch of main manufacturing equipment moved into the factory.
“We don’t have a competitor yet for the model, but the Tesla Model 3 probably will be a benchmark and we will be able to roll out our vehicle to the market earlier,” said Shen.
The first vehicle will be based on WM Motor’s first vehicle platform, part of the company’s “128” product strategy, which entails one architecture involving batteries, motors and control, two platforms with four models each for a total of eight products.
“The first production model has gone through more than 100 rounds of consumer surveys which helped to define features of the vehicle according to feedback of pain points from existing EV owners and non-EV owners,” said Shen.
AG2020 concept previews vehicle of 2020
With its first production vehicle still in “secrecy,” WM Motor unveiled the AG2020 Concept, which previews the first model off of its second platform.
With the “AG” standing for avant garde, the AG2020 EV concept with gullwing doors has a theoretical range of 1,200 km, zero to 100 km/h acceleration time of 2.2 seconds and charging time of only 30 minutes from empty to full.
“This is a concept but is close to what we are envisioning for the year 2020,” said Shen. “Our plan is to have this vehicle meet tough consumer demands then even without the benefit of NEV subsidies, which will phase out in 2020.”
The AG2020, according to WM Motor Design Director Sam Sun, follows what he calls a “CUTE” design philosophy, which stands for connected, unique, trustworthy and enjoyable. The vehicle has a wheelbase of about 3m and offers ample space and human machine interface features throughout the interior of the vehicle.
“It’s our first concept vehicle for smart mobility so it is first and foremost smart,” said Sun. Shen added that the concept offers customized changing interior configurations based on user preference and depending on if it is used privately or for sharing purposes.
Charging app begins open testing
WM Motor’s first mobility service product – the WM Charging APP, also went live for open testing.
The APP offers the four core functions of “search, navigation, charge and payment” for charging and will be available in Shanghai first connecting users to about 5,000 charging poles from charging operators Start Charge and EVPower.
“This is an APP we are offering that aims to solve all of the pain points of EV owners today,” said Lobo Lu, WM Motor’s vice president of strategy planning. “First, can owners properly find the charging poles; second, once they are found are they in working condition and third, if they are whether there are other cars parked at the charging spots or whether the poles can charge my vehicle.”
WM Motor, according to Lu, aims to offer a charging app with a near 100-percent accuracy rate and refresh rate of 30 seconds by the end of the year.
Channel development ongoing, ¥12 billion industrial fund formed
Lu said WM Motor has already started developing its sales network that will first focus on tier-1/2 cities this year and then gradually move into inland tier-3/4 cities in 2018-2019.
“The three keys to WM Motor’s channel development are shared channels, very good user experience and convenience,” said Lu, who indicated that the sales network will have traditional offline stores.
WM Motor also announced the establishment of a ¥12 billion ($1.74 billion) global industrial fund aimed at supporting both upstream and downstream partners of WM Motor. It already has invested in a vehicle service platform and will announce more projects within the next two months.
C2M all the way
WM Motor also indicated that it will offer e-commerce selling where users can customize the vehicle online in areas such as exterior color, battery pack and exterior configurations. This is just a part of the company’s C2M manufacturing strategy, a strategy that has three phases: the C stands for customer, which involves social media marketing and the utilization of WM Motor’s WM Alliance, which is composed of fans that interact and offer suggestions to what features WM Motor should offer for its future products. The “2” stands for the process of ordering, manufacturing and delivering of the vehicle and the “M” stands for an integrated manufacturing and sales organization.
The C2M, according to WM Motor, includes two cycles: one is a small cycle represented by crowd-sourced design and the big cycle is individualized online ordering and offline delivery of vehicles.
WM Motor’s aim with its C2M strategy? Build a production smart vehicle for the masses with a delivery that is only a third of Tesla’s.
“Not many of the new EV startups have true core quantity production capabilities and we believe we are one of them,” said Shen. “The ability to produce mainstream products in quantity to us is the core of our ecosystem.”
Rather than “taking over others on a curve” as is the usual industry phrase to describe latecomers who are trying to disrupt the incumbents, Shen used the term “taking over by changing lanes” – “It is about using a different business model offering smarter products, more open ecosystem and more flexible capital to challenge the traditional OEMs. ‘Taking over others on a curve’ is just unrealistic,” said Shen.