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Can China's BYD and IM succeed in the UK as premium carmakers?

Both companies showcased striking new concepts at Geneva - could their entry into the UK be more plausible than others?

Published: 07 Mar 2024

Lots of Chinese brands have called themselves 'upmarket' or 'premium' and said they planned to launch in Britain. And then didn't or at least haven't. But at the Geneva Motor Show we saw two new ones that probably have a more plausible route than most to UK showrooms, because of the companies they're spun out of – MG and BYD.

The BYD effort is by far the most striking. It's the Yanwang U8. 'Striking?' Yup, think Mercedes-AMG G63 given the Mansory treatment. And powered by four electric motors, so it can spin around in its own length.

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Oh yeah, and it can float. Well, they call that an 'emergency' mode, and having seen a video of it, swimming like a slow hippo on a flat-calm pond, I wouldn't put to sea in it without a lifejacket, raft and distress flares. But if you were crossing a bog and things turned unexpectedly liquid, it would be more than handy.

The interior of this mammoth boxy rugged 4x4 is vastly luxurious and high-tech, and, in the case of the car at Geneva, vastly orange too. But other trims are available.

BYD officials said it is being 'considered' for sale in Britain.

Meanwhile, MG UK are very much expecting to bring in their new brand, IM. These are a series of streamlined rounded-off saloons and crossovers. You could see Taycan in them, and Tesla too.

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IM isn't quite a wholly-owned subsidiary of MG or its parent SAIC. Other tech investors including Alibaba also have stakes.

It has a saloon - the L6 - and a crossover LS6 planned for entry at around the same time in 2025. But standing alongside was an early prototype of a larger L7, yoke steering and all.

I spoke to an engineer on the L6 project, and asked for his view of what makes IM cars distinctive. The car, he said, is conceived with European conditions in mind. The rest of his answer was a bit unoriginal, sadly.

It's to give the range and performance and features of the top-of-range Tesla Model 3 at the price of Tesla's mid-ranger. Other features unavailable in the T-word rival are nappa leather and a 24-speaker hi-fi.

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IM quotes a 0-62mph time of less than 3.8 seconds and WLTP range of 375 miles.

Pretty much uniquely, IM is also ready to claim a projected WLTP range figure for a later version with a solid-state battery. That's 500 miles. Toyota, Nissan and others say they're well-advanced with SS battery research but they're not prepared to put numbers on it yet.

David Allison, MG UK's planning and product chief, told Top Gear that IM vehicles will be "separate from the value-oriented MG. There will be some synergy but they need to sit separately in the dealer".

I wondered if buyers in the UK are ready to accept yet more new cars from nameplates they've never heard of. Allison replied: "EVs have democratised new brands. But maybe it's harder than it was two or three years ago because of the general EV resistance."

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