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Leapmotor is coming to Europe from China, with a little help from Stellantis

Another day, another big Chinese brand reveals plans to bring cheap EVs our way…

Published: 14 May 2024

Major Chinese EV maker Leapmotor will start selling its cars in mainland Europe this autumn and the UK next year, via a partnership with multi-brand enormo-conglomerate Stellantis.

The first of them will be the city-biased T03 tiddler and a biggish crossover, the C10, both pictured. They will be sold under the Leapmotor name, not re-badged as, say, Citroens or Fiats.

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The T03 has the potential to be one of the cheapest EVs, a rival to the Dacia Spring. It has a range of 165 miles WLTP.

At the announcement of the partnership, Stellantis' CEO Carlos Tavares said: "I have committed to my grandchildren to do what I can in this job to solve global warming. The goal is to speed up EV deployment. That depends on charge infrastructure and cost of the vehicles." And this deal helps make cheaper EVs, he said.

Speaking about the bigger C10, Leapmotor founder and CEO Jiangming Zhu mentioned the Tesla Model Y and VW ID.4 as rivals. He added that Leapmotor's position is to provide similar space and technology to rivals' but at a lower price.

A tiny hatch and a biggish crossover are an odd pairing to establish a brand. But four other cars are coming to complete the range in very short order: a crossover smaller than the C10 (also next year), a VW ID.3-size hatch (early 2026) and a supermini hatch (late 2026) and smallish crossover (2027).

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Leapmotor moves staggeringly fast. Zhu funded the company as recently as 2015 and within two years was selling its first vehicles. It's now number three among EV and PHEV car makers in China.

The C10 is on Leapmotor's new self-developed platform. This has a 'cell-to-body' battery, meaning its cells are built right into the monocoque without intermediate modules or a pack structure. This saves space weight and cost, and other makers have been talking about it for years but aren't yet there. Cost has been further suppressed by resisting the temptation for a huge pack capacity, so range is 261 miles. Enough for most.

It is also claimed to have a "flagship intelligent cockpit" and "best-in-segment premium ride and handling," but of course every manufacturer says that. We'll be the judge, thanks.

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So Leapmotor gets a foothold outside China. What's in it for Stellantis? It gets just over half the profit from each car sold, as the new international joint venture is 51 per cent Stellantis and 49 percent Leapmotor. It has also taken a 21 per cent stake in Leapmotor itself, giving it access to the underlying technologies.

Tavares is an outspoken critic of international trade tariffs. But he also complains that Chinese carmakers are effectively helped by their government in ways European ones aren't. This deal is his hedge against that. If it's cheaper to sell Chinese cars here when made in China, Stellantis can now do that and take a cut. If it turns out tariffs are erected by Europe, well Leapmotor cars can instead be built in Stellantis factories on this continent. Which is why, when questioned, he didn't rule out the possibility of the little T03 being made alongside small Fiats in his factory in Poland.

If Leapmotor really does do well the new joint-venture - Leapmotor International - would be huge. It has exclusive rights to sell and manufacture all Leapmotor cars outside China. Its initial scope beyond Europe includes India, Australia and Latin America, where Stellantis is already strong and cheaper EVs are needed.

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