Chinese EVs recalled in Australia over electrocution risk


While electric vehicles from China have yet to flood the U.S. market, American automakers are already worried about how they’ll compete on cost once they do.

Chinese EV brands have, however, entered other markets already, including Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia and New Zealand.

But it hasn’t always gone smoothly. Great Wall China, one of the emerging EV makers in China that’s now expanding abroad, just issued a recall in Australia for an inexpensive 2023 model called the Ora, as a notice on an Australian government website reveals. 

The notice reads, “Due to a programming issue, if the operator removes the charging cable without cancelling the charge, an electrical arc between the charging plug and the vehicle may occur.”

How serious is the risk from this “electrical arc” or electrocution? Quite, it appears.

“If an electrical arc comes into contact with the operator or bystanders it will increase the risk of serious injury or death,” the notice continues. 

Ora owners will be notified in writing and asked to bring their vehicle into a dealership, which will fix the issue for free with a software update, the notice says.

The recall notice applies to 1,659 vehicles sold Down Under. A recall is also hitting New Zealand, a GWC national sales manager told EVs & Beyond, with about 520 vehicles affected there. (There may be recalls in other markets that Fortune has not yet learned of.) 

Of course, recalls have hit Tesla in the U.S. as well. Earlier this year, Elon Musk’s EV maker “recalled” more than 362,000 vehicles with the Full Self-Driving Beta because it “may cause crashes,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (The fix involved over-the-air software updates, and Musk takes issue with the word “recall” for such cases as it implies a need to visit a garage.)

Drive, an Australian car news publication, reported in July that the Ora sold for about US$26,400, but that two EVs from other Chinese carmakers sold for slightly less: MG’s MG 4 and BYD’s Dolphin.

Even less expensive models from China could disrupt overseas markets in the near future. For example, BYD’s Seagull launched in China earlier this year with the cutthroat price of about $11,000 and has quickly become one of the nation’s best-selling EVs. By comparison, in America Tesla’s most affordable option, the Model 3, starts at just under $40,000 and exceeds $60,000 with various add-ons, according to Electrek.

As the UK-based market intelligence firm Autovista Group wrote, it is overseas that the Seagull “could be a truly disruptive force. Latin America and Africa are waiting for a good quality, affordable EV to hit the mainstream. India and Europe could also see the Seagull take off, where decent, small, value-for-money BEVs are scarce.”

In May, Ford CEO Jim Farley said that “the Chinese are going to be the powerhouse” in EVs. Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Finance Summit, he said that Chinese brands “produce 70% of electric vehicles in the world in China…And the winners are BYD, Geely, Changan, SAIC, Great Wall.”

He also addressed the issue of cost, saying: “To beat them, you either have to have a very distinct brands, which we think we do, or you have to beat them on cost. But how do you beat them on cost if their scale is 5x yours?”

Chinese brands also have an advantage on the supply-chain side. BYD, for instance, can keep its vehicle prices low partly because it owns the supply chain of its EV batteries, from the raw materials to the finished battery packs. It also designs its own semiconductors. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has gone from laughing at the quality of BYD cars in 2011 to saying last month that “the Chinese car companies are extremely competitive.” At last week’s New York Times Dealbook conference, he suggested that the world’s top 10 carmakers would be Tesla and nine EV makers from China. “If we consider different leagues of competitiveness at Tesla, we consider the Chinese league to be the most competitive,” he added. 

But winning the trust of consumers in Europe, Australia, and other markets will likely prove a long challenge for China’s EV brands. It took Japanese carmakers decades to win hearts and minds around the world. In a YouGov survey of German consumers last year, only 1% of those who were even aware of Chinese EV brands said they would consider actually buying one.

The Chinese EV maker Aiways, meanwhile, recently told Reuters that it decided against advertising its national heritage due to worries that consumers would hesitate to buy China-made products.

Alarming recalls like the Ora’s won’t help.

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