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China's Xiaomi just showed Apple how a smartphone maker actually can make an EV

Hasan Chowdhury   

China's Xiaomi just showed Apple how a smartphone maker actually can make an EV
  • Apple pulled the plug on its electric-vehicle project last month.
  • One of its biggest Chinese smartphone rivals just started selling its own EV.

Last month, Apple called it quits on its electric-vehicle dream. One of the iPhone maker's biggest rivals in China is showing it how it's done.

The Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi launched its first line of EVs, the Speed Ultra 7 — known as the SU7 — on Thursday in a lavish event in Beijing.

The standard SU7 is priced at 215,900 yuan (about $30,000) — about 30,000 yuan less than Tesla's Model 3 in China. The Pro version is 245,900 yuan (about $34,000) and the Max is 299,900 yuan (about $41,500).

The company said it had 50,000 firm orders in less than 30 minutes after the launch, per CarNewsChina.

For Lei Jun, Xiaomi's billionaire cofounder and CEO, the launch marks an extraordinary feat: his EV managed to go on sale just three years after his company said it was venturing beyond consumer electronics into EVs.

In December, Lei wrote on X about his experience driving 100 cars to "learn from the strengths of each one" and gain the "firsthand experience" he felt necessary to build a competitive car. The effort may have paid off: Xiaomi has said the SU7 can go from zero to 100 kilometers an hour in 2.78 seconds.

"As we approach the 3rd anniversary of our EV-manufacturing journey, 'Fight for Xiaomi EV' continues to fuel me and the team. We remain determined to make a great car!" the Xiaomi CEO said on X.

Like Apple, Xiaomi is best known for selling smartphones. Data from Counterpoint Research found that in the first six weeks of the year, Xiaomi has a 13.8% share of the smartphone market in China, putting it just behind Apple's 15.7%.

So it's worth asking how Xiaomi has managed to do what Apple spent a decade trying to do.

Apple's decision to end its EV project came after running into several production issues that pushed the company to consider a less ambitious design for its autonomous vehicles, having already risked delaying a launch until at least 2028.

Bloomberg reported that in 2020, Apple got an autonomous minivan prototype nicknamed the "Bread Loaf" up and running at a testing track in Arizona. But with a lot more work needed, it became increasingly difficult for Apple to justify spending roughly $1 billion annually on the car program.

Xiaomi, meanwhile, has managed to use the existing EV industry base in China to its favor.

Xiaomi has benefited from a partnership with the Beijing Automotive Group, which allowed the company to quickly access a manufacturing permit, per Bloomberg. The partnership could help Xiaomi build about 200,000 EVs a year.

Of course, Xiaomi isn't guaranteed success just because it's ready to sell EVs now.

The market for EVs has been on the decline, and rival carmakers like Tesla and BYD are engaged in a price war to entice consumers.

Xiaomi is aiming at the upper end of the Chinese auto market — the world's largest. That could prove to be a challenge in China, where EV makers are battling slowing demand.

Still, Xiaomi has managed to pull off something Apple dreamed about for 10 years. Tim Cook might have to look on from Cupertino to see what could have been.