Light-truck maker Great Wall gears up for cars

  • 19-Jun-2008 04:10 EDT

The electric Kulla city car is a concept car that Great Wall intends to market after resolving cost and quality issues related to its lithium-ion battery.

Great Wall Motors highlighted its engineering acumen by introducing two full-electric vehicles, one hybrid-electric vehicle, and several new powerplants at Auto China.

In terms of unveilings, the highlight of Great Wall’s press conference was the Kulla, a two-seat city car powered by a 48-V dc motor able to accelerate the car to a top speed of 65 km/h (40 mph). The motor of the rear-wheel-drive microcar concept is in the rear. With 7.2 kW·h of stored energy, the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery provides life for 140 km (87 mi) of travel at top speed before recharging. A full recharge takes 5-6 h.

The Kulla is 2565 mm (100.1 in) long, 1443 mm (56.8 in) wide, and 1524 mm (60.0 in) tall, with a wheelbase of 1710 mm (67.3 in). The 500-kg (1100-lb) car’s chassis setup includes disc brakes in front and drums in rear; rack-and-pinion steering box; and MacPherson strut independent suspension in front, trailing arms in rear.

Steven Wang, Deputy Manager of Great Wall’s International Trade Division and General Manager of the America Region, told Automotive Engineering International at the show that the Kulla represents the company’s first effort at electric vehicles. “We are just starting to build this kind of vehicle, so there are still some technical issues—especially to reduce costs,” he said, noting the great expense of Li-ion batteries. Quality is also an issue with Li-ion batteries, the company noted in press materials.

It is the company’s hope to have a Great Wall electric vehicle on the road within two years, Wang said. Of the Kulla, he said, “I think this will be suitable for some special markets, especially for big cities.” Great Wall claims in press materials that the vehicle’s range would meet the daily needs of an owner in a “large-medium” city.

An electric vehicle closer to production (because it is based on a conventionally powered four-seat model already in production) is the Peri EV. Great Wall did not have an unveiling for the car at Auto China, but in press materials noted that a 320-V Li-ion battery offers power consumption of 10 kW·h/km for a travel distance before recharge of 180 km (112 mi). It has 19.2 kW·h of stored energy.

The permanent-magnet brushless dc motor is water-cooled and provides 50 kW and 140 N·m (103 lb·ft). The car’s acceleration time from 0 to 50 km/h (31 mph) is 9.5 s, with a top speed of 130 km/h (81 mph).

General specifications for the front-engine, front-wheel-drive vehicle include 3548-mm (139.7-in) length, 1580-mm (62.2-in) width, 1544-mm (60.8-in) height, 2299-mm (90.5-in) wheelbase, and 1085-kg (2392-lb) curb weight. Chassis setup has disc brakes in front and drums in back, MacPherson independent suspension in front, and torsion beam compound suspension with trailing arms in the rear. Specifications and chassis setup for the conventionally powered Peri are the same as those for the Peri EVs, except that the latter is 70 kg (154 lb) heavier.

The company emphasizes that its display of two electric and one hybrid vehicle is not just a public-relations effort. The company added that it plans to establish a formal R&D team dedicated to “new-energy projects.”

“World-class quality” was the general theme of Great Wall’s display. Company President Wang Fengying believes good quality and technical innovation—not low cost—should be the most important selling points for new vehicles in China. As a newly elected delegate to the 11th National People’s Congress, she submitted a proposal that calls for a new emphasis on these criteria, plus a heavier emphasis on the development of small cars.

There was plenty of evidence at Auto China that other indigenous Chinese automakers have gotten the message.

For its part, Great Wall recently launched the Peri, its first small car, to what it calls international standards. The company already has begun exporting it. The four-door Peri is powered by a 1.3-L gasoline engine delivering 65 kW (87 hp) at 6000 rpm and 115 N·m (85 lb·ft) from 4200 to 5200 rpm. Mated to a five-speed manual transmission, the car has a maximum top speed of more than 160 km/h (100 mph) and meets Euro IV emissions standards, according to the company. A Bosch braking system is employed. The car sells for 43,900 to 53,900 yuan (roughly 6300 to $7700).

In addition to the Kulla, the other Great Wall unveiling at Auto China was the Feelfine minivan concept. The Hover Hybrid SUV joined those vehicles and the Peri EV for first-time public showings.

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