The car companies you’ve (probably) never heard of, but will soon

March 13, 2024 by

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A number of new car companies have their sights set on the UK; we detail the newcomers, and what you can expect from them

Head back just a few years, and nobody had ever heard of Tesla. Even a few years after that, it was a fledgling company producing one weird, expensive car. Yet since the launch of the Model S in 2012, it’s rocketed to a place where it dominates headlines, regularly tops the EV sales charts (its Model Y SUV was the world’s best-selling car in 2023) and has a wide range of some of the most accomplished cars on sale.

The meteoric spiral of the electric car has heralded huge growth in new companies able to enter the automotive market – manufacturers that have been able to leapfrog the decades of development in combustion engines of established automakers. These agile firms are competing on much more even ground than they would be if they tried to match, say, Volkswagen or Toyota by producing traditional vehicles with petrol or diesel engines.

It is also impossible to overlook or overstate the importance Chinese car companies have in the race for the EV market.

Relatively low wages, a huge, skilled workforce, an established automotive manufacturing and shipping base, strong government support, plus China’s geographical location close to the automotive powerhouses that are Japan and Korea have all contributed to the country’s successes where car production is concerned. Excellent business decisions that have seen Chinese firms acquire huge names like Volvo, MG and Lotus undoubtedly play a huge part, too.

That’s not to say it’s only Chinese car companies Over the coming years, many new car companies could be as common a sight on UK driveways as the Fords, Volkswagens and BMWs we’re so used to. But who are they, and why should UK motorists be interested in what they have to offer? We take a look at the new names that will be fighting for consumer attention in the coming months and years.

The new car companies coming to the UK are:

Afeela

Country of origin: Japan
Date founded: 2022
Parent company: Honda/Sony
Notable models: Afeela EV
Unique selling point (USP): A car developed by a tech company
Likely UK entry date: 2026

Afeela is the result of an unusual partnership between Honda and Sony, the people who make the PlayStation. This new brand is working on just one car for now, an all-electric saloon which is packed with tech.

It has a sleek, minimalist design, a whole suite of high-tech screens inside and it can even be driven using a PS5 controller. Orders for this car are due to open in 2025, with first deliveries likely in 2026.

Lynk & Co

Country of origin: China/Sweden
Date founded: 2016
Parent company: Geely
Notable models: 01 and 02
Unique selling point (USP): Subscription-based ‘ownership’
Likely UK entry date: 2024

Founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016, and owned by Chinese car giant Geely, Lynk & Co has long had its sights set on the UK, initially suggesting it would arrive as soon as 2018.

That clearly hasn’t happened, though the firm’s plug-in hybrid 01 model, which is based on the same platform as the Volvo XC40, is available in Europe, and it looks likely Lynk & Co will be arriving here in 2024. When it does, expect a subscription-based service that will put a new 01 on your drive for around £45,000, or £600 a month (it’s €44,500 outright/ €550 a month in Europe at present), inclusive of insurance, tax and breakdown cover, with potential discounts if you let other subscribers use your car when it’s sat idle.

Nio

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2014
Parent company: N/A
Notable models: ET5
USP: Battery swaps for EVs
Likely UK entry date: 2024

Nio’s EP9 is a £2.5 million 1,300hp track-based hypercar, and while it has no chance of coming to the UK, it did showcase a technology that has become core to the Nio brand: swappable batteries.

These feature in the firm’s ET5 saloon and estate, which is set for UK shores early next year, and is already offered in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

At Nio’s battery-swap stations the car is driven into a dedicated bay, where it is precisely positioned so its depleted battery pack can be removed from underneath by robots, and a full one put in its place. Bold plans, certainly, but Nio already has 1,300 swap stations in China, and had carried out over a million swaps by the end of 2021.

The firm plans to have 4,000 swap stations worldwide by 2025, eliminating the need to wait for electric cars to charge. Expect a price tag of around £50,000 when the ET5 arrives in the UK.

Rimac

Country of origin: Croatia
Date founded: 2009
Parent company: Part owned by Bugatti/Porsche
Notable models: Nevera
USP: Electric hypercars
Likely UK entry date: Already here

Rimac’s founder, Mate (pronounced ‘Matty’) Rimac, is perhaps one of the most exciting brains in the automotive world, winning numerous international awards and competitions for electronics and innovation before he’d even left school, and designing the Concept One EV hypercar at the tender age of 23.

The Rimac Nevera followed in 2021, and this 1,914hp hypercar quickly took the crown as the quickest-accelerating car in the world.

Little wonder, perhaps, that Bugatti and Porsche together formed a joint venture with Rimac Automobili in 2021, taking a 45% stake in the firm, keen to capitalise both on Mate Rimac’s wizardry, and the company’s ability to make electric hypercars a reality.

Vinfast

Country of origin: Vietnam
Date founded: 2017
Parent company: Vingroup
Notable models: VF8, VF9
USP: Vietnam’s first foray into European car market
Likely UK entry date: 2024

You may not have heard of Vinfast, but its parent company, Vingroup, is a corporate titan in Vietnam, where it operates everything from supermarkets and hospitals to schools and electronics companies.

Vingroup has now turned its attention to cars with Vinfast, which aims to bring its VF8 and VF9 SUVs to North America and mainland Europe this year, with the UK also on its radar. As and when Vinfast arrives, its electric SUVs should be competitively priced, while if its parent company’s ambition and achievements are anything to go by, expect to see Vinfast dealers here sometime soon.

Rivian

Country of origin: USA
Date founded: 2009
Parent company: N/A
Notable models: R1, R2, R3
USP: Big EV pick-up trucks and SUVs
Likely UK entry date: TBC

Rivian initially had plans to build vehicles in Europe under an agreement with Mercedes, but with that plan now on pause, its entry into the UK or EU looks uncertain.

North American customers are already able to purchase the electric R1T pick-up truck and R1S SUV, which share the same mechanical underpinnings, and offer a range of around 300 miles. But weighing over three tonnes means they’re not exactly built with UK roads or weight limits in mind. Newly announced are two smaller SUVs, the R2 and R3, both of which should hit Europe, though no sooner than 2026.

Potentially of more interest is Rivian’s partnership with Amazon, which has an 18% stake in the company and has led to Rivian building delivery trucks for the online retailer.

Ora

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2018
Parent company: Great Wall Motors
Notable models: Funky Cat/03
USP: Characterful, affordable EVs
Likely UK entry date: Here already

If we were being really strict, we wouldn’t include Ora in this rundown, as the Ora 03 – formerly known as the Funky Cat – is already on sale in the UK. Offering buyers in the market for a family EV something rather different, this cute-looking electric car comes loaded with kit and has a high-quality cabin, while Ora’s target of selling 5,000 03s each year shows it is both realistic and ambitious.

Speaking of ambition, a longer-range 03 that would increase the range from 193 to around 260 miles is in the offing, while a four-door coupe model, provisionally called the 07, could also make its way over here by the end of 2024.

Wey

The Wey Coffee01, known as the Mocha in some markets

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2016
Parent company: Great Wall Motors
Notable models: Coffee01
USP: Luxury for less
Likely UK entry date: 2024?

As with Ora, Wey is owned by Great Wall Motors, which sells over a million vehicles a year in China. But while Ora is already selling cars in the UK, it’s less clear if Wey will follow suit, although it looks set to enter mainland Europe this year.

It’s a mid-size plug-in hybrid SUV aimed at premium buyers, with an expected price tag of around £50,000.

BYD

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2003
Parent company: BYD Company
Notable models: Atto 3, Dolphin, Seal
USP: The world’s largest EV company
Likely UK entry date: Already here

Short for ‘build your dreams’, BYD Company is a Chinese conglomerate that makes solar panels, electric bicycles, forklift trucks and much more besides, with BYD Auto specialising, naturally, in cars. BYD became the world’s largest maker of electric cars in 2022, overtaking Tesla by selling 641,000 electric cars in the first six months of last year.

And while many of the firms in this rundown are newcomers to the market, BYD has been building cars for two decades now, and it started selling cars in the UK earlier this year with the Atto 3 SUV. Since then the Dolphin small hatchback and the Seal saloon have made their UK debuts.

Fisker

Country of origin: USA
Date founded: 2016
Parent company: N/A
Notable models: Ocean
USP: Design-led EVs
Likely UK entry date: Already here

Henrik Fisker doesn’t like to rest on his laurels. The Dutch designer and entrepreneur penned the BMW Z8, the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage, as well as a motorcycle and a superyacht.

As if that weren’t enough, he also co-founded Fisker Automotive, which was an early pioneer of plug-in hybrids with the Fisker Karma of 2011.

Fisker Automotive folded in 2014, but Henrik kept its logo and trademarks, and a new firm, Fisker Inc., was founded in 2016. That company has now produced the Fisker Ocean, an all-electric SUV that’s about the same size as a BMW X3, and will be built at the same Magna Steyr factor as the Jaguar I-Pace. The Ocean is on sale in the UK now, and it starts from £36,900. A smaller model, the Fisker PEAR, is also slated for production.

Lucid Motors

Country of origin: USA
Date founded: 2007
Parent company: N/A
Notable models: Air
USP: Pure EV luxury
Likely UK entry date: TBC

Almost every key model so far featured in our rundown has been an SUV, but North American company Lucid is pinnings its hopes on the saloon shape with its Air, which we reviewed in May ’23.

With a sleek, futuristic design and an interior that offers levels of luxury not seen this side of a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, the Air promises to be something rather special. With a battery range of up to 561 miles, together with a 0-60mph time of just three seconds, you could hardly want to go further, or faster. The only question is when the Air will arrive, as Lucid has experienced production delays in the USA, which may hold back its European launch.

XPeng

The Xpeng G9

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2014
Parent company: N/A
Notable models: P7, G9
USP: High-tech, distinctive EVs
Likely UK entry date: 2025?

Taking a similar approach to Nio, XPeng has already launched in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, where it sells the flagship G9 electric SUV alongside the P7 EV saloon. With cutting edge driver-assistance systems, marketed as XPiolt, XPeng clearly hopes to follow Tesla’s lead in this field.

The XPeng G9 can also take ultra-rapid charging at a rate of up to 300kW – that’s quicker than the Porsche Taycan can recharge, while its price take of around €60,000 seems competitive given the tech on offer.

Omoda

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 1997
Parent company: Chery
Notable models: Omoda 5
USP: First UK car from China’s largest exporter
Likely UK entry date: 2024

The Omada 5 is already sold under the Chery name in Australia and New Zealand, while the state-owned car maker has plans to launch in the UK under the Omada brand. When it arrives, pure EV, plug-in hybrid and conventional petrol versions of the 5 are likely to be offered, while the twin wraparound digital screens and on-trend SUV body should provide broad appeal.

Seres

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2016
Parent company: Donfeng Motor (DFSK)
Notable models: Seres 3
USP: Low price/good value
Likely UK entry date: April 2024

Cirencester-based Innovation Automotive (IA) plans to start importing the Seres brand from April 2024. China’s Seres sits under the Dongfeng Motor umbrella – IA also imports Dongfeng/DFSK branded electric vans – but is headquartered in California. The Seres 3 is a small electric SUV around the same size as the MG ZS EV, but will undercut it slightly by coming in at £29,995. A 160hp electric motor and claimed range of 205 miles are fairly competitive, and it comes very well-equipped for the money, though the styling inside and out is offensively bland.

Skywell

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2015
Parent company: Nanjing Golden Dragon Bus
Notable models: Skywell ET5
USP: Value, 300-mile range
Likely UK entry date: Summer 2024

Also set to be imported by IA, like the Seres (above), Skywell is the passenger car arm of the rather fantastically named Nanjing Golden Dragon Bus, itself a subsidiary of the Skywell New Energy Automobile Group. IA will start by bringing in the ET5 – also known as the EV6 (not the Kia) and the BE11. It’s described as a luxury mid-sized electric SUV, though with an expected price of only a few thousand pounds more than the Seres 3 it’s probably not going to be Mercedes S-Class levels of premium. It has a 204hp electric motor and a 304-mile range.

Zeekr

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2021
Parent company: Geely
Notable models: X, 001
USP: Possibly the world’s quickest EV
Likely UK entry date: 2025+

Zeekr is an offshoot of Geely, and makes full use of platform sharing – with the Zeekr X compact SUV sharing its mechanicals with the Smart #1 and Volvo EX30. Other planned models include the 009, a massive electric MPV, and the 001.

The 001 is particularly interesting because it’s available as the quad-motor 001 FR. Producing a mammoth 1,265hp, it claims to do 0-62mph in just 2.07 seconds – potentially showing the Tesla Model S Plaid a clean pair of heels…

Zeekr’s already available in continental Europe but right-hand drive cars aren’t in the pipeline until 2025 at the earliest. If the 001 FR makes it to Europe it’ll be later still. Zeekr’s key focuses – apart from the rapid 001 FR – are on customer service and premium quality. It won’t be aiming to pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap, but to attract younger customers who have less brand loyalty and want something posh, but a bit different from the established players.

Voyah

Country of origin: China
Date founded: 2020
Parent company: N/A
Notable models: Free
USP: Triple infotainment screens
Likely UK entry date: 2025? 

Voyah as a brand is very much still in its infancy, having only been around since 2020. Despite this, the Chinese brand has already unveiled its first car for Europe: the Voyah Free. This all-electric SUV has up to 310 miles of range, slightly less than the Tesla Model Y Performance, and you get dual motors with 489hp.

This new Tesla alternative is set to go on sale in mainland Europe in 2024, but it’s not known yet if it’ll hit UK shores. If it does, expect to see it in 2025.

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