Huawei has just held its launch event for the company’s first car, known as AITO. The M5 model is an SUV that comes in 2WD or 4WD variants and while the design is clean, modern and inoffensive, the car offers many differentiating features.
Let’s start with range. The car is capable of a range of up to 1,242km (using the new China Light-Duty Vehicle Test Cycle (CLTC) rating, however, there’s a big problem.. While the world is going fully EV, Huawei says ‘We hope you have no concerns over range and it can take you anywhere you want to go.. and you can use both fuel and electricity. So basically the big range number comes from a hybrid.
This drivetrain gets more complex as Huawei described their DriveONE system. Despite referring to it as a ‘pure electric’, there is a 1.5L 4-cylinder range extender, a rear permanent magnet synchronous motor and an asynchronous motor in the front ‘so it can be fueled by both fuel and electricity’, so yeah, its a hybrid.
In the top-spec AWD configuration, these combine for a drivetrain that offers 365kW of power and 675Nm of torque. The standard single-model option is good for 315kW.
The performance figures are fairly impressive with a 0-100km/hr time of just 4.4s and 0-50km/hr a very snappy 1.9s. On a comparison slide, they were a little cheeky in showing the Model Y time of 5.1 seconds, which is 5.0 for the LR on Tesla’s website, but the Performance model offers 3.7, making the 4.4 not look so great.
So why would you need to include the complexity of a petrol motor what should be an EV? Basically, it looks like the battery tech isn’t up to the job, or they couldn’t hit the price point they wanted to. The AITO M5 uses a 40kWh battery pack, significantly less than the 78kWh pack found in something like the Model Y.
The fuel economy of the range extender is around 6L/100km and a 56L gas tank, which for any EV owner, means you maintain all the worst things about an ICE vehicle and fail to realise many of the benefits of a simplified pure EV drivetrain. With a pure EV, the car requires dramatically less maintenance, and owners enjoy reduced ongoing costs with lower recharge costs (around 1/3rd to 1/2) compared to refuelling.
Huawei shows that combined their car can achieve as much as 1,242km (CLTC) on a single charge and fuel.. I’m not surprised with a tank that large, but remember you’re now paying for both fuel and electricity, this is not better.
The car can actually be used in 3 modes. One is a pure EV mode for around town, but Huawei did not mention what the range is in that mode. The car can also run in a hybrid mode, using a combination of petrol and electricity to power the vehicle, and finally, if the battery runs out, the car can operate in a normal ICE mode.
In an attempt to explain why they are offering a car with both electric motors and a petrol engine, Huawei turns to the ‘charging problem’. Instead of finding a way to partner with a charging network, or build their own, Huawei decided to show a graphic of Tesla Model Ys and explain how sometimes EVs have to wait up to 4 hours to get a spot to charge their cars. Weird these look to be Model Ys queued at a 3rd party charger, not Superchargers, but ok, sure thing.
Huawei then proceeded to explain that their car wouldn’t suffer from this issue because if the chargers were busy, you’d simply go fill up with gas instead. This statement really demonstrates that there is no environmental-friendly motivation for Huawei with this vehicle.
Huawei is leveraging their knowledge and experience in software, using a variant of Harmony OS to power the vehicle. They also spoke about using their Watch and Phones as smart keys to access the vehicle.
The car has a camera that uses facial recognition to detect the driver and load their profile and preferences into the vehicle. The software looks very fast and fluid, user friendly, so their software developers appear to have done a great job and taken some inspiration from other products on the market.
The AITO M5 checks many boxes required to be successful in the EV space. There’s a glass roof, a big tablet bolted to the dash, flush door handles and minimal interior and a low coefficient of drag, coming in at just 0.32.
Huawei says they wanted to design fashionable cars for young people and that’s what inspired them to design the AITO as we see it today.
The dash is a 15.6″, 2K HDR display that integrates into the dash which offers touch controls over vehicle functions like controlling the air vents (we’ve seen this somewhere before).
The interior also supports a wireless charging space, support for both USB Type A and Type C, and Huawei’s own SuperCharge technology that is capable of charging a laptop at 66w, or a phone at 40w.
At night, the interior comes alive with personalised lighting with LED strips (128 colours) that run from the dash, down the driver and passenger doors, and continue to the rear doors for a pretty neat effect.
There are a number of interior options that Huawei is offering to customers. The first is a crystal gear selector and while it may not make the car go faster, it is a bit of bling that is likely to be welcomed by the Chinese market.
The second is massaging seats, a feature that is often found in high-end luxury vehicles and adds to the heating and cooling already included in the seats.
The third option is to have Nappa leather as your seat covering, which is likely to attract a pretty decide price tag.
Finally, we have the option of a heads-up display for the driver, to provide information like the current speed, current speed zone, and lane-keeping setting in front of the driver’s eye-line.
When it comes to audio, Huawei went all out, offering 7.1 Surround sound (5.1 as well), which includes audio pumped from speakers in your headrest. The car features more than 1,000 Watts, similar to the power you’d find in a home theatre setup. Owners will be in no doubt where the audio comes from, with the speakers featuring the ‘Huawei Sound’ branding.
Being an SUV, one of the big attributes you get over a sedan, or hatchback is the additional storage capacity. During the event, Huawei showed off a shot of the rear trunk, packed with suitcases, camera gear and more to be representative of what the space could support.
The Trunk capacity is 369 litres, or 776 litres with the rear seats folded down, slightly down on the 854 litres offered by the Model Y. There was no display of the frunk storage.
While many automakers are revealing concepts that won’t make it to production until sometime in 2025, Huawei is serious about this and is ready to start test drives in January, ahead of customer delivery in February. This means those that place a reservation, could have the vehicle in as little as 2 months, which is pretty crazy given the wait times throughout the auto industry right now.
When it comes to price, Huawei AITO M5 starts at US$39k, or around A$54k before GST and on-road costs. As you add options, that price obvious will climb, but clearly, Huawei is targeting a really affordable price here (affordable in EV land).
There are 3 interior colours available, and 5 exterior colours including green, blue, grey, black, white and light blue (basically aqua).
Huawei says the car will be in 50 cities but did not speak about international availability. The exterior styling looks fine, the interior looks great, but the drivetrain is the real issue here, Huawei should have been more ambitious and designed a car that was going to launch in 2022, not a hybrid from 2012.
If Huawei can take this platform, learn rapidly, make a fully EV version with a competitive range at a great price, then I’d welcome it with open arms to Australia.